Q&A: Redirecting a 529 college savings plan

Dear Liz: Years ago when my children were young, we established 529 college savings plans for them. Unfortunately, both children ended up in the wrong crowds and never entered college. We still have the funds. What are our options? We do have a grandson now; would it be possible to change the beneficiary?

Answer: Yes. You can change a 529 plan’s beneficiary without triggering a tax bill as long as the new beneficiary is a “qualifying family member.” By the IRS’ definition, that includes the original beneficiary’s child or other descendant. (Qualifying family members also include spouses and siblings, parents, in-laws, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins.)

Q&A: Signing up for Medicare

Dear Liz: Is it mandatory to sign up for Medicare at age 65, and how is it paid for? I’m 64, don’t have any assets and I’m not working (I’m living with a friend for free). I’d like to wait until 70 to collect Social Security. Is that possible? Someone just told me that I have to sign up for Medicare, and to pay for it, I have to sign up for Social Security. Is that true?

Answer: No.

You’re not required to get Medicare at 65. You should, however, at least sign up for Medicare Part A. Part A is the portion of Medicare that’s free and covers hospital visits. You sign up for Medicare through Social Security, either online or in a Social Security office, but you don’t have to start your Social Security benefit to do so.

The other parts of Medicare — Part B, which covers doctor’s visits, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs — require paying premiums, but you can pay those without signing up for Social Security. Some people are confused about this, because most people who get Medicare have those premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. But that’s not required.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Taking a “micro trip” before the holidays. Also in the news: Money summits for couples, the best and worst US cities for retirement, and the top 10 most regrettable mistakes retirees made in the 20s.

Need a Break Before the Holiday Break? Consider a ‘Micro Trip’
A little relaxation before the holiday rush.

Start With a Money Summit to Hit Your #couplegoals
A meeting of the minds.

Here are the best and worst US cities for retirement
Did yours make the list?

Top 10 Most Regrettable Mistakes Retirees Made In Their 20s
Learning from others.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to travel last minute and still get a good deal. Also in the news: Streaming services are the hot new credit card rewards, how college students can make the most of their summer earnings, and how retail credit cards are squeezing the financially vulnerable.

How to Travel Last Minute and Still Get a Good Deal
Impulse travel doesn’t have to break the bank.

Forget gas and groceries—streaming services are the new trend in credit card rewards
How your groceries can pay for your binge watching.

College students, make the most of your summer earnings
Making your money last.

Retail credit cards are squeezing the financially vulnerable as their delinquency rate rises
Getting caught in the points trap.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why your credit score isn’t the only gage of financial health. Also in the news: Car buying tips from an undercover salesman, 8 things that won’t hurt your credit, and how to control what could take a big bite out of your retirement nest egg.

Your Credit Score Isn’t the Only Gauge of Financial Health
The numbers you need to pay attention to.

5 Car-Buying Tips From My Days as an Undercover Salesman
How to navigate the car buying process.

8 Things That Won’t Hurt (Whew!) Your Credit
Starting with checking your credit score.

Here’s what could take a big bite out of your retirement nest egg — and how you can control it
Pacing yourself for the long haul.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if Hurricane Dorian hits your home and mortgage. Also in the news: How to fall in love with your car again without breaking the bank, drink up savings at Starbucks, and why you should add cash to your car’s emergency kit.

What to Do If Hurricane Dorian Hits Your Home, Mortgage
What to do first.

Fall in Love With Your Car Again Without Breaking the Bank
Rekindle an old flame.

Drink Up Savings at Starbucks
Just in time for Pumpkin Spice Latte season.

Add Cash to Your Car’s Emergency Kit
But don’t leave it on the dashboard.

Q&A: Social Security spousal benefits

Dear Liz: I’m confused by Social Security benefits for divorced spouses, which you’ve written about recently. I was told that because I remarried (after age 60), I have to wait until my ex-husband died before receiving a part of his benefits. Is this still true for remarried ex-spouses? My ex does collect Social Security and I collect my small benefit (both of us started at full retirement age).

Answer: Yes. Divorced spousal benefits would be available only if you are currently unmarried. Survivor benefits, on the other hand, could still be available if you remarried at 60 or older.

Spousal and divorced spousal benefits can be up to 50% of the worker’s benefit, while survivor and divorced survivor benefits can be up to 100%.

Q&A: Unloading a timeshare

Dear Liz: How can a timeshare owner get rid of the timeshare and claim the loss on taxes?

Answer: Timeshares typically are considered a personal asset, like a boat or a car, so the losses aren’t deductible. The best way out of a timeshare is often to give it back to the developer, if the developer will take it. You also could try to sell it on sites such as RedWeek and Timeshare Users Group. Unless your timeshare is at a high-end property, you are unlikely to recoup much and may have to pay the buyer’s maintenance fees for a year or two as an incentive.

Q&A: Strategies for overcoming a spouse’s bad investment decisions

Dear Liz: I tell people we lost a huge chunk of money in the Great Recession, but it wasn’t the downturn that did us in. My husband made some incredibly poor choices. I’m embarrassed to admit that he absolutely refused to listen to me and stop the financial self-destruction until I grew a backbone. I told him I’d divorce him unless he stopped. He has mended his ways and we’re still together (which is really for the best; we’ve been married almost 47 years).

He’s now being very transparent and prudent about investing, but we’re still looking at an underfunded retirement and I’d like to maximize what we have. We’re both 71 and still working (we’re self employed). Our home is worth about $800,000 and we owe $160,000. We have a rental nearby with about $100,000 in equity that pays for itself, but there’s no extra income from it. We have $210,000 in investments and $25,000 in savings with no debt.

I think more real estate would be a good investment vehicle for us, but we’d have to cash out some of our limited portfolio in order to purchase more. So instead, I make an extra principal payment equal to half the regular mortgage payment on each of the properties each month. I’m not sure if that’s the wisest thing to do, but I figure it’s still investing in real estate and will help us when we finally retire, sell and downsize.

Answer: Right now, the vast majority of your wealth is tied up in two properties in the same geographic area. A financial planner would want you to diversify, not double down by putting even more money into real estate.

And a fee-only financial planner is what you need to help you map out your future while easing the investment reins out of your husband’s hands. As we get older, we’re more vulnerable to fraud, exploitation and just plain bad choices. Your husband may have been scared straight for now, but he easily could make future decisions that could again imperil your finances. That’s especially true if his prior behavior was related to a gambling addiction. Not all problem gamblers choose casinos or horse tracks; some are day traders.

Given all that, you may want to consider purchasing a single premium immediate annuity when you retire. These annuities offer a guaranteed stream of income for life, in exchange for a lump sum. This would be income that can’t be lost to stock market downturns, real estate recessions, bad investments or fraud.

That’s something to discuss with your planner, along with ways you can use your businesses to maximize your retirement savings. (The self employed have many options, including a basic Simplified Employee Pension or SEP, solo 401(k) plans and traditional defined benefit pension plans.)

You can get referrals to fee-only planners at the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the XY Planning Network, the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners and the Garrett Planning Network.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to bypass ATM fees while you’re on the road. Also in the news: Protecting your digital privacy after you die, 4 smart ways to split bills with friends while traveling abroad, and as the school year begins, beware of hackers.

How to Bypass ATM Fees While You’re on the Road
A little research could save you some bucks.

Who Gets Your Digital Assets: Heirs or Hackers?
Protecting your privacy after you die.

4 Smart Ways to Split Bills With Friends While Traveling Abroad
No need to make it awkward.

As the school year begins, beware of hackers
Hackers are especially targeting college students.