Smart strategies to fight back against inflation

Few economists predict we’ll return to the double-digit price increases of the late 1970s and early 1980s. But knowing some of the ways consumers coped back then — and how things are different now — can help you formulate a plan to deal with rising prices.

First, a primer: Inflation shrinks your purchasing power, so you need more money to buy the same goods and services. When inflation averages less than 2%, as it did from 2010 to 2020, it would take more than 35 years for prices to double. When inflation averages 5%, which was the annualized rate reported in May, prices would double in less than 15 years. That is a huge deal if you live on a fixed income or are trying to calculate how much you’ll need in retirement.

In my latest for the Associated Press, strategies that may prove helpful.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What Gen Z can learn from Millennials’ money mistakes. Also in the news: How points and miles credit cards can ease the return to travel, financial vital signs to monitor right now, and the Biden administration makes it easier to qualify for Covid funeral reimbursement.

What Gen Z Can Learn From Millennials’ Money Mistakes
As millennials have learned, if you put off getting your financial life organized, your options are limited later.

How Points and Miles Credit Cards Can Ease Return to Travel
Compatibility is essential when it comes to consideration of travel credit card offers.

Financial Vital Signs to Monitor Right Now
Taking a mid-year checkup.

Biden administration makes it easier to qualify for Covid funeral reimbursement
Amended death certificates are no longer necessary.

Q&A: Here’s how taxes work on estates and inherited money

Dear Liz: Are all assets entitled to a stepped-up basis upon the death of the owner? My father died about a year ago, leaving my sister and me an estate of a little over $1 million. He had a Thrift Savings Plan that is apparently like a 401(k) for federal government employees. This is getting taxed at 37%. Also he had U.S. Savings Bonds and the interest on those is apparently taxable. I was under the impression all assets in an estate under $11 million were not taxable. Is this not correct?

Answer: That’s not correct. You’re confusing a few different types of taxes.

Estate taxes are levied on certain large estates when the owner dies, and those taxes are typically paid out of the estate. The current estate tax exemption limit is $11.7 million, up from $11.58 million last year. After 2025, the limit is scheduled to drop to $3.5 million, but even then very few estates will owe the tax.

Another type of tax is the capital gains tax. This essentially taxes the profit someone makes when they sell a stock or other asset. Capital gains tax rates are typically 15%, but they can be as low as zero or as high as 20%, depending on the seller’s income.

Inherited assets that qualify for capital gains tax treatment also can qualify for the “step up in basis” that may reduce the tax bill, sometimes dramatically. If your dad paid $10 for a stock that was worth $100 when he died, you could sell it for $105 and owe taxes only on the $5 in appreciation since his death. The $90 appreciation that occurred during his lifetime would never be taxed.

Not all assets qualify for capital gains treatment, however. Retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs, are a good example.

People usually get tax breaks when they contribute and the accounts grow tax deferred. When the money comes out, however, the withdrawals are taxed as income regardless of whether it’s the original owner getting the money or the heir. Whoever makes the withdrawal pays the taxes.

Federal income rates currently range from zero to 37%. The 37% rate applies for singles with taxable income of $523,601 or more and married couples filing jointly with taxable incomes of $628,301 or more.

Q&A: Finding your real credit score

Dear Liz: I’ve been thinking of buying a house, and I want to get a good deal on the mortgage. To do this, I’ve been working on getting my credit score high. I only have one credit card and have had it for less than two years. This credit card has gotten my FICO score to 788. I’ve never had a loan. Would you recommend getting a credit builder loan, to try to increase my score and get a better mortgage deal? Or is 788 good enough?

Answer: Mortgage lenders typically use older versions of the FICO scoring formula. The resulting scores can be quite different from the free scores you can find online, or even the FICO 8 or FICO 9 scores that your bank and credit card companies may show you.

You can get your mortgage credit scores, along with FICO scores used for auto lending and credit cards, for $19.95 per credit bureau at MyFico.com. (Be sure to click on the tab that says “one time reports,” because otherwise you’re signing up for a subscription service.) Be sure to get all three bureaus’ scores, because mortgage lenders use the middle of the three numbers to determine your interest rate. If your scores are 800, 740 and 720, for example, the lender would use 740 to determine your rate and terms.

If the middle of your three mortgage scores is 740 or higher, you should get a mortgage lender’s best deal. If it’s not, the MyFico.com report should give you some clues how to get it higher.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Financial vital signs to monitor right now. Also in the news: July’s mortgage outlook, pandemic college enrollment, and how to make some cash before returning to school.

Financial Vital Signs to Monitor Right Now
A midyear financial review is often a good idea.

Mortgage Outlook: July Rates to Shrug and Stay the Course
A look at what could happen this month.

Pandemic Sinks College Enrollment Again, but Fall Looks Brighter
Community colleges saw enrollment drop most, but analysts expect a recovery for all types of institutions this fall.

How to Make Some Cash Before Heading Back to School
Tips for landing a summer job.

Financial vital signs to monitor right now

A midyear financial review is often a good idea. This year, it’s almost essential.

With people going back to offices, travel resuming, and Congress making significant changes to various laws affecting your finances, consider taking some time to check in on your money. You might be able to make some smart moves to reflect the new realities. In my latest for the Associated Press, what to check-in on at the midyear point.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A Roth IRA could help you avoid taxes like the ultrawealthy. Also in the news: How one DUI can nearly double your car insurance, the Child Tax Credit scam, and flying first class for cheap(er) right now.

A Roth IRA Could Help You Avoid Taxes Like the Ultrawealthy
You, too, could lower your tax burden with the right investment account.

One DUI Can Nearly Double Your Car Insurance — Here’s How to Save
On average, auto insurance rates skyrocket 96% after a DUI, our 2021 rate analysis found.

Scam Alert: Child Tax Credit Is Automatic; No Need to Apply
The IRS won’t call, text or email you so beware of unsolicited communications.

You Can Fly First Class for Cheap(er) Right Now
Luxury travel is a bit more accessible.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: With student loan payments set to return, here’s how to get help. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money Podcast on managing finances abroad and a mid-year money check-in, taking financial advice from Reddit, and how to know if you’ll receive a plus-up stimulus payment.

With Student Loan Payments Set to Return, Here’s How to Get Help
The clock is ticking.

Smart Money Podcast: Midyear Money Check-in and Managing Finances Abroad
Checking in on your money goals.

Should You Take Money Advice From Reddit?
Crowdsourcing financial advice.

What’s a Plus-Up Stimulus Payment? (And How to Know If You’ll Get One)
You could be owed an additional payment.

Q&A: Credit scores and card limits

Dear Liz: I have a 780 credit score but noted that one of my cards doesn’t count in the percent of credit used. I have had this card for 44 years and I could charge a couple hundred thousand dollars on a single purchase if I chose to, yet credit scoring formulas don’t figure in the “credit I have available” from Amex. Seems unfair?

Answer: As credit cards with six-figure limits are rare, what you’re describing is probably a charge card. Unlike credit cards, charge cards don’t have preset spending limits. They also don’t allow you to carry a balance from month to month, typically.

The “percent of credit used” you mention is called credit utilization, and it’s a large factor in credit scoring formulas. Credit utilization measures how much of your available credit you’re using, and the bigger the gap between your credit limits and your balances, the better.

But the credit utilization calculation can’t be made if one of the numbers — the credit limit — is missing. The only way the formulas would be able to calculate credit utilization in that case would be to assume that whatever amount you charged is equal to your credit limit, and that would be disastrous for your scores.