Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Smart PhoneHow to avoid mistakes with your credit cards, plan a cheap summer vacation and get personal finance advice in the palm of your hand.

Best Personal Finance Apps of 2013

How your smartphone can make your wallet smarter.

Nine Stupid Things You’re Probably Doing With Your Credit Card
Innocent mistakes can lead to serious problems.

How to Plan a Cheaper Summer Vacation
There’s still time to get away on the cheap.

Good News: Homeowner’s Insurance Covers a Sharknado
Just like an asteroid, falling sharks are covered.

Is a Roth worth losing a tax deduction?

Dear Liz: Everyone talks about Roth IRAs and how beneficial they are. But I am self-employed, my husband contributes 16% toward his 401(k), our house is paid off, and we no longer have dependents to deduct on our 1040 tax return. My contribution to my traditional IRA is the only tax deduction we have left. Should I consider a Roth anyway? If so, why?

Answer: A Roth would give you a tax-free bucket of money to spend in retirement. That would give you more flexibility to manage your tax bill than if all your money were in 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, where your withdrawals typically are taxable. Also, there are no minimum distribution requirements for a Roth. If you don’t need the money, you can pass it on to your heirs. Other retirement funds require you to start taking money out after you turn 701/2. If you need to crack into your nest egg early, on the other hand, you’ll face no penalties or taxes when you withdraw amounts equal to your original contributions.

So is it worth giving up your IRA tax deduction now to get those benefits? If you have a ton of money saved, you want to leave a legacy for your kids and you’re likely to be in the same or a higher tax bracket in retirement, the answer may be yes. If you’re like most people, though, your tax bracket will drop once you retire. That means you’d be giving up a valuable tax break now for a tax benefit that may be worth less in the future.

You may not have to make a choice, however, between tax breaks now and tax breaks later if you have more than $5,500 (the current annual IRA limit) to contribute. Since you’re self-employed, you may be able to put up to $51,000 in a tax-deductible Simplified Employee Pension or SEP-IRA. At the same time, you could contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth (assuming your income as a married couple is within or below the phase-out range for 2013 of $178,000 to $188,000).

This would be a great issue to discuss with a tax pro.

Is moving in with Mom unfair?

Dear Liz: I just read your reply to the woman who was struggling to make ends meet with her part-time job. She was wondering whether she should sell her house and move in with her mother. I couldn’t get to my computer fast enough to ask you how on Earth you can recommend with a clear conscience that someone move back in with a parent because she can’t pay her bills.

Why should she be able to mooch off Mom and expect her to take her Social Security check to pick up the slack? I was in basically the same situation when I was 39, except that I had three kids and my ex passed away within a week of our divorce, so I got no child support. I still managed to find a full-time job, maybe not the job of my dreams, but it paid well and allowed me to keep the house and continue to raise the kids. I built up a good retirement, which I felt I had earned and was enjoying very much, until my adult son went through a bad divorce and “temporarily” moved himself back into my home.

I’ve tried to help him get back on his feet and moving again, but so far all that has happened is my credit cards are getting out of control, my home equity line of credit is maxed out, my property has been damaged, and my life is now miserable, as I share my once-lovely home with an ungrateful jerk, his girlfriend and three cats. I can’t figure out how to get him out, and I can see no end in sight. I’m not saying this woman would do the same, but it’s still not fair to expect her mom’s life to be disrupted, no matter how nice the lady is.

Answer: The other reader was considering going back to school to get training that would qualify her for a full-time job. Selling her home and moving in with her mother would allow her to keep her current part-time job while she went to school. There was no suggestion that Mom would pick up her bills — only that she would share her home for a finite period.

So the other reader’s situation probably isn’t like yours. But perhaps it’s easier to get mad at a stranger than to acknowledge that you helped create this mess and you’re the only one who can fix it.

Schedule a meeting with an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your state so you’ll understand the best way to evict your freeloader. Then do.

Perhaps your parents did a better job of setting boundaries with you than you did with your son, but it’s not too late to reclaim your retirement, your house and your life.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

No sharksWhy you’re never really alone while shopping at the mall, what debt you should focus on first after graduating, and how to protect your finances from natural disasters (sharknado!).

Is Your Mall Spying on You?
Your cellphone could be providing retailers with a wealth of information.

How to Keep Telemarketers at Bay
Putting a stop to those annoying calls for good.

How Grads Should Prioritize Their Debt Repayment
Find out which debt should take the highest priority.

How to Save for Retirement on a Small Salary
Saving for retirement is possible even when living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Prepare Your House and Finances for a Natural Disaster
Protecting your house and your wallet from unexpected disasters.

In case you missed it: credit score myths, zero waste and baby dilemmas

YCS4 coverToo many people believe too many lies about credit scores, and it’s costing them money. Read the real scoop in my MSN Money column “Credit score myths that need to die.”

Our family may never achieve “zero waste,” but we’ve started some easy ways to reduce the amount of garbage we generate. More in “Are you ready for a zero-waste lifestyle?

Kyle has a good job, and better health care coverage than her husband. He thinks those are reasons to keep working and create a more flexible schedule. But daycare is eating up most of her paycheck and she’s wondering if she should quit to stay home with their baby. Read my assessment, plus what you need to do if you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home parent, in Marketplace Money’s new feature “Financial Feud.”

Some financial missteps may not show up on your credit reports, but they’re big red flags that you’re headed for trouble. Read more in CardRatings.com’s “Danger ahead: 5 warning signs that won’t show up on your credit report.”

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Old windmill in the town of Gorinchem. NetherlandsHow to save big bucks when traveling, preparing for back to school shopping, and what mistakes to avoid when managing your 401(k).

5 Coolest Travel Share Websites
Why pay for an overpriced hotel room when you can have the literal run of the house?

9 Money Management Tips for Newly Employed Millennials
Finally making real money is exciting. But finding ways to save it is vital.

Help with Managing Finances for People with Disabilities
Things to take into consideration when taking care of a disabled person’s finances.

2013 Sales Tax Holidays for Back-to-School Shopping
Find out when your state’s holiday is and what purchases will be tax-free.

The Experts: The Biggest 401(k) Mistakes to Avoid
Important tips on how to properly manage your 401(k).

Are you ready for a “zero waste” lifestyle?

Garbage BoatMost of what we buy or consume requires trade-offs. When it comes to some of the most important features–convenience, thrift and environmental friendliness—we often settle for one or two out of three.

A book and a few Web sites devoted to the “zero waste” movement have convinced me to try a little harder on the third count.

At first I was skeptical of claims that the typical American produces more than four pounds of garbage a day. Just observing our household patterns, though, convinced me that we’re generating a lot more trash than I thought. And too much of that trash either wasn’t being recycled or couldn’t be recycled. (We’re not alone…I found this rubbish map from the Economist showing the U.S. and Norway, of all places, are tops at producing trash.)

I’m not ready to go to some of the lengths that the truly devoted advocate to reduce our trash to what would fit in a Kleenex box.  But we’re taking a few baby steps:

We’re finally getting a composter. We composted on the farm where I grew up, but it was a pretty simple chore. Compostable food scraps went into a bucket Mom kept under the sink. Every few days it was my job to take the bucket and a shovel to the garden to bury the scraps. They disappeared almost magically. We never turned up an eggshell or coffee filter later on. The small lot we live on now doesn’t allow that kind of “lazy composting,” but the city of Los Angeles offers a $20 composter I’m going to try.

I’m remembering to take my reusable bags to the store. They’re way better than the flimsy plastic bags grocery stores provide (and that LA is about to ban). But I managed to ignore that until a lovely, expensive bottle of olive oil fell out of tear in one of those flimsies and shattered on our driveway. Now my groceries come home in strong, resilient, reusable totes that don’t let the contents roll all over my car.

I’m thinking about packaging before I buy. There’s usually a choice between recyclable and not. Surprisingly often these days, you don’t have to pay more for the greener option. This extends to fast food outlets. Carl’s Jr., a favorite burger chain here, wraps its food in paper and cardboard. McDonalds, by contrast, continues to use Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic. The purists would bring their own plates, cups and cloth napkins to a fast food joint, or avoid such restaurants altogether, but for now I’m content to pick Carl’s.

We just had an almost-zero-waste BBQ. I’d convinced myself you couldn’t have a party without filling a trash bin, but I was wrong. I made pitchers of lemonade and cucumber water instead of providing bottled water. We used cloth napkins, regular cutlery, and real plates and glasses for the most part. The plastic cups for the kids were recyclable (as were the beer and wine bottles). I even managed to skip the Styrofoam trays that usually accompany meat: We bought some lovely tri-tip roasts from a local butcher, who wrapped them in paper. At the end of the night, the only thing that went into the trash were the hot dog wrappers. It was fun, and the cleanup wasn’t that hard.

Some resources if you’re interested in learning more:

The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less” is a book by Amy Korst that suggests ways to reduce, reuse and recycle that range from the easy (like remembering those tote bags!) to the advanced (Diva Cups, anyone?).

Zero Waste Home is the blog of Bea Johnson, who wrote a book by the same name. I especially like the posts where she talks about zero waste and raising kids.

The Nonconsumer Advocate is a perfectly delightful Portlandian named Katy Wolk-Stanley who describes herself as a “library patron, leftovers technician, Goodwill enthusiast, utility bill scholar, labor and delivery nurse, laundry hanger-upper, mother and citizen.” Her commentary about some of her more absurd Goodwill finds—found under the heading “Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-Will”—are particularly hilarious.

 

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Paid education. Graduate cap on bank notesMaking college more affordable, avoiding email scams, and deciding should get your iTunes library when you die.

14 Dangerous Emails That Could Be in Your Inbox
It’s not just Nigerian princes anymore.

Retiring Soon? Don’t Forget Tax Implications
When planning your retirement budget, be sure to factor in these taxes.

How to Cut Back on College Costs
Tips on how to make college slightly more affordable.

How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife
Do you REALLY want your loved ones finding your private Facebook messages?

Car Dealers No Longer Fear Bruised Credit
If you have less than perfect credit and need a car, now’s the time.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

iStock_000016540552XSmallWhat 20-somethings can learn financially from their elders, how much that adorable new baby is going to cost you, and why the more you know could mean the more you spend.

7 Key Money Lessons for 20-Somethings
Old-school money habits can help the new school financially.

Raising Baby: Just How Much Does it Cost?
So very cute and so very expensive.

Same-Sex Couples Face New Financial-Future – and Opportunities
What same-sex couples should focus on financially now that DOMA is done.

When Informed Shopping is Dumb Shopping
How more information can lead to dumber purchases.

How Credit Card Companies Spot Fraud Before You Do
Credit card companies are tracking your spending patterns in order to prevent fraud.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

My first carHow to speed up your mortgage closing, saving more money with a maxed out 401(K), and preparing for your teenager’s time behind the wheel.

Four Steps to a Speedier Mortgage Closing
Speeding up the last, agonizing step before home ownership.
How Rising Interest Rates Affect Retirement
Rising interest rates could leave you altering your retirement plans.
Maxed Out on Your 401(K)? How to Save More
Maxing out your 401(K) doesn’t mean you should stop saving.
The Impact of Adding a Teenager to Your Auto Policy
Prepare to open your wallet when Junior’s ready to get behind the wheel.

How to Budget as a Live-In Couple
Creating a budget can make a stressful time much easier.