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.

Q&A: Delaying Social Security benefits

Dear Liz: I get conflicting answers on whether my wife, who turns 62 in April, should take her Social Security now. I am 68 and am holding off taking my benefits until 70. Will her survivor benefits include the 8% annual increase I will receive when I start benefits in September 2024? And should she take her benefits now at age 62 (especially since we both plan to retire this year)?

Answer: Your wife’s survivor benefit would include the delayed retirement credits you’re earning by putting off your application. In other words, if you died tomorrow, her survivor check would be about 20% larger because you waited. (That assumes you turned your full retirement age of 66 in September 2020, and have earned about 2.5 years’ worth of 8% annual increases.)

If you make it to 70, she would receive all four years’ worth of 8% annual increases (plus, of course, all the cost-of-living increases your benefit earned in the meantime).

Because your benefit determines the survivor’s benefit, it’s more important for you to delay than for her to put off her application. Still, she most likely will maximize her lifetime benefit by delaying if she can.

The right strategy depends on the details of your financial situation, so consider consulting a fee-only financial planner for personalized advice.

This week’s money news

This week’s top story: Smart Money podcast on how to leverage inflation for your benefit. In other news: Justice department sues to block JetBlue, Spirit merger, 3 tax credits not to miss when you file this year, and 3 ways to get your income and other money faster.

Smart Money Podcast: How to Leverage Inflation for Your Benefit
In this week’s episode, we’re sharing NerdWallet’s recent webinar, which was about inflation.

Justice Department Sues to Block JetBlue, Spirit Merger
On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued to block JetBlue Airways from taking over Spirit Airlines in a $3.8 billion deal.

Don’t Miss These 3 Tax Credits When You File This Year
Credits are a more powerful tax-saving tool than deductions, and common programs, such as the earned income tax credit, can save you thousands.

3 Ways to Get Your Income and Other Money Faster
To get money faster, use early direct deposit, Zelle or instant cash-out on Venmo or Cash App. But availability varies.

5 ways to deal with money envy

If you’ve ever scrolled through social media posts only to be gripped with envy when you see a friend posing in front of their beautiful house or enjoying themselves at a luxurious resort, then you understand how easy it is to want what other people have. Financial envy is real, and sometimes it can be ugly.

“Financial envy is absolutely normal. It’s part of the human condition,” says Yvonne Hampton, who holds a doctorate in personal financial planning and runs a financial therapy practice in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.

And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, she adds. “It’s an opportunity to dig more deeply internally about why we have that feeling so we can work through it and be happier in our own lives.”

In Kimberly Palmer’s latest for the Associated Press, learn five steps to take to deal with money envy.

This week’s money news

This week’s top story: Smart Money podcast on the tax 2023. In other news: In March, mortgage rates will have little reason to fall, what you should do with savings if there’s a recession, and why a new-construction home may cost less than you expect.

Smart Money: The Tax Episode 2023
This week’s episode starts with a conversation about how to know if you can file your taxes for free.

In March, Mortgage Rates Will Have Little Reason to Fall
There’s not much room for mortgage rates to fall unless inflation slows down.

What Should I Do With My Savings if There’s a Recession?
One of the best things you can do to prepare for a recession is build your emergency fund.

Why a New-Construction Home May Cost Less Than You Expect
Homebuilders are reducing prices and offering incentives, so buyers should reconsider newly built dwellings.

Q&A: Retirees and disability benefits

Dear Liz: I have a few simple questions about disability, but have been getting different answers from different advisors. Even the Social Security site has different answers. My wife, a nurse, is 71 and has been working for more than 45 years. She is receiving Social Security benefits, starting when she was 70. She has been working in the office, with little patient contact, for 2½ days weekly for a few years with a salary of just over $50,000. She has progressive neuromuscular pain, with significant pain and discomfort in the right upper leg with radiation. It affects her most when she is sitting, which is how she performs her job. She has seen multiple specialists. She does have various meds for pain, but they cloud her thinking, and she doesn’t want that to affect her work. She is missing more and more time. Is she eligible for disability? If so, can she apply while she is still working, or does she need to have stopped completely? Will her Social Security affect or be affected by her disability? Is there a rough estimate as to the disability payments she may get if she is eligible?

Answer: There is nothing simple about Social Security’s disability benefit program. In general, though, it’s meant to provide a subsistence level of income for people younger than retirement age who can’t work. The average monthly Social Security disability payment is less than $1,500 a month. Benefits are granted only to people who are totally disabled, meaning they can’t work and their condition has lasted or is expected to last at least a year or result in death.

Social Security disability payments aren’t designed to supplement retirement benefits. Once a disabled person reaches their full retirement age, which is currently between 66 and 67, a Social Security disability benefit converts to a retirement benefit, says Christopher Lanfranca, a senior retirement analyst with Social Security Solutions, a claiming strategies site. Someone who applies for disability benefits past full retirement age probably would be given retirement benefits instead.

Adjusting to a $50,000 drop in income could be tough. Consider consulting a fee-only financial planner or accredited financial counselor who can review your financial situation and offer suggestions.