Q&A: How a card switch affects your credit score

Dear Liz: I have one American Express card and two Visa cards, all of which I have held for many years. I received notice that my American Express card was being converted to a Visa card. I do not want a third Visa card but have no choice. For credit score purposes, will this conversion appear to be a closing of my old card and an application for a new one? Obviously, closing a long-held credit card and applying for a new one will affect my excellent credit score, which is 830. If I decided to apply for a new American Express card, how would that impact my score?

Answer: Conversions from one issuer to another can have a temporary negative impact on your credit scores as one account is closed and another opened. The effect should be minor as long as you have other open, active accounts.

Within a month or two, the new account should show the same history as the old one, and your scores should recover. (You have more than one credit score, by the way, and your scores change all the time. As long as they’re generally above 760 or so, you should get lenders’ best rates and terms.)

The type of card usually matters less than the benefits associated with the card. If those benefits are useful to you and are enough to offset any annual fee, consider keeping the card. Its long history and credit limit are likely helping your scores.

That doesn’t mean you have to keep a card you really don’t want. The fewer cards you have, though, the more careful you probably need to be about closing one.

You can still add an American Express or other card to your portfolio. Adding a new card typically dings your scores less than five points. The effect is temporary, and the new account could contribute positively to your scores over time.

Q&A: Social Security and the tax torpedo

Dear Liz: People are typically advised to wait as long as possible (full retirement age or later) to take Social Security to maximize the benefit. If a couple has low expenses and substantial pensions, wouldn’t it make sense to take Social Security earlier, to preserve retirement funds to pass on to their heirs? Social Security payments stop upon death, whereas retirement accounts are passed on to heirs.

Answer:
If your primary concern is preserving an inheritance, maximizing your Social Security payments could help you reduce how much you have to withdraw from retirement funds in the long run.

Starting early also could make you more susceptible to what’s known as the tax torpedo, which is a sharp increase in marginal tax rates due to how Social Security is taxed when someone receives other income. People who only receive Social Security don’t face the torpedo, and higher-income people probably can’t avoid it, but middle-income people may be able to lessen the hit by delaying Social Security and drawing from their retirement funds instead.

One way to preserve assets for heirs is to convert traditional retirement accounts to Roth IRAs. This requires paying taxes on the conversions, but then you wouldn’t face required minimum distributions on the Roth accounts.

Calculating the best course can be difficult. You can pay $20 to $40 to use sophisticated claiming software such as Social Security Solutions or Maximize My Social Security to model various options, or consider consulting with a fee-only advisor.

Q&A: Long-term-care insurance

Dear Liz: I’d appreciate your thoughts about long-term-care insurance programs. Ours has just announced a 52% rate increase with a possible 25% increase next year. Although I realize that none of us can predict the future, are there any guidelines you can suggest for deciding whether, for example, an 80-year-old in good health needs the maximum 10-year coverage or can get by with a three-year coverage period?

Answer: Most people over 65 will need some kind of long-term care, but most need it for less than three years. You may want to err on the side of caution and opt for a longer coverage period if you have a family history of dementia.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How video games can level up kids’ money skills. Also in the news: How Twitter became the unlikely hero in a rental car fiasco, what to buy (and skip) in September, and 5 steps to turn your side gig into a full-fledged business.

How Video Games Can Level Up Kids’ Money Skills
These four conversations can help your video game-loving kids learn about money.

How Twitter Became the Unlikely Hero in a Rental Car Fiasco
Here’s how and when customers might use social media to get through to customer service.

What to Buy (and Skip) in September 2021

5 Steps to Turn Your Side Gig Into a Full-Fledged Business
Formalize your freelance business by separating your business and personal finances and making a business plan.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Where to turn when a natural disaster upends your finances. Also in the news: 5 ways women can combat investing disadvantages, Ask a Travel Nerd on when to book holiday travel, and why your rent is often more than a mortgage payment.

Where to Turn When a Natural Disaster Upends Your Finances
Act quickly to get free aid first, then turn to financial tasks like contacting insurers and creditors.

5 Ways Women Can Combat Investing Disadvantages
Here are some of the investing disadvantages Americans say women have, and advice on how to overcome them.

Ask a Travel Nerd: Is It Time to Book Holiday Travel Yet?
Despite ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it still makes sense to book your holiday travel early.

Why Your Rent Is Often More Than a Mortgage Payment
The extra costs baked into your monthly rent.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to get free money for college and help to find it. Also in the news: 4 alternatives to big banks, workplace scams to watch out for, and unexpected things you could buy with crypto.

You Can Get Free Money for College — and Help Finding It
The FAFSA qualifies you for federal financial aid. And it’s not too late to submit it for this academic year.

Tired of Your Big Bank? Consider These 4 Alternatives
Become more than just a number.

Scam Alert: Avoid a Big Mistake in a New Job
CEO fraud and other scams try to get employees to purchase gift cards, send money or divulge sensitive information.

Unexpected Things You Didn’t Know You Could Buy With Crypto
From home goods to travel.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Pandemic puts personal finance on high school agenda. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on Delta spending habits and marriage vs. mortgage, 4 new rules for entrepreneurs in 2021, and the mortgage outlook for September.

Pandemic Puts Personal Finance on High School Agenda
“Educators say there’s never been more interest in the subject from students and parents.”

Smart Money Podcast: Delta Spending Habits and Marriage vs. Mortgage
How the Delta variant is changing the way people spend money.

4 New Rules for Entrepreneurs in 2021
How COVID has rewritten the rules.

Mortgage Outlook: September Rates to Ascend, Then Level Off
What to expect in the month ahead.

Q&A: Retiring early doesn’t mean losing affordable health insurance

Dear Liz: I am 55 and have health issues that I don’t talk about at work. I want to retire soon. I know that getting health insurance is going to be hard. I am just at a loss as to how I am going to keep working when I don’t feel well. What are my options?

Answer: In the past, getting health insurance could be difficult or prohibitively expensive if you had even relatively minor health conditions. That changed with the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to extend coverage without jacking up the premiums for preexisting conditions. In addition, most people qualify for tax subsidies that reduce the premiums, and those subsidies were expanded this spring when President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law. You can start your search for coverage at HealthCare.gov.

Before you quit, however, consider whether your employer could make accommodations that would allow you to continue working. Many people at 55 don’t have enough saved for a comfortable retirement that could last decades. Shifting to part-time work, if your employer allows it, could help you continue to save or at least reduce the amount you need to withdraw from your savings.

Q&A: Refinance or use IRA funds on mortgage?

Dear Liz: I owe $360,000 on my mortgage. I have sufficient funds in my IRA to pay this amount off without depleting income distribution for the next 20 years. I am currently paying $1,100 monthly on an interest-only loan, but I have to start making much larger principal payments in November 2022. Would you advise withdrawing IRA investment monies (and taking a tax hit) to pay off the full loan amount, or simply getting a conventional mortgage and live with a higher payment ($1,500) each month? I am 77 and retired now for four years.

Answer: Making that large a withdrawal will almost certainly hurl you into a much higher tax bracket and increase your Medicare premiums. Refinancing the mortgage while rates are low likely makes the most sense, but consult a tax pro or a fee-only financial advisor before making any big moves with retirement funds.

Q&A: Pensions and Social Security benefits

Dear Liz: My situation is similar to the former teacher who wrote about a pension impacting Social Security benefits. I started Social Security at 62. My wife’s government pension is from a job that didn’t pay into Social Security. I’ll receive her pension if she should die before I do. If this occurs, how will my Social Security be impacted?

Answer: It won’t, because your situation is actually the reverse of the former teacher’s.

You paid a portion of each paycheck, currently 6.2%, into the Social Security system. The teacher (and your wife) did not, so their benefits are affected by rules designed to prevent people who didn’t pay into Social Security from getting more than those who did.