Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Do eco-friendly credit cards deliver on their promises? Also in the news: How to choose between hotel loyalty programs, how to become a digital nomad abroad, and the status of student loan forgiveness.

Do Eco-Friendly Credit Cards Deliver on Their Promises?
They’re a start, but even recycled plastic has downsides. Metal cards, digital wallets and buying less help, too.

How to Choose Between Hotel Loyalty Programs
You’ll not only have to decide on a hotel brand, but also if the loyalty program’s elite status perks are worth it.

How to Become a Digital Nomad Abroad
These tips can help you make sure you have a plan to work, save money and build a community abroad.

Is Student Loan Forgiveness Dead?
Where loan forgiveness currently stands.

How to be a better long-distance caregiver

Long pandemic lockdowns forced many older adults to become comfortable with video calls to stay connected with family. That in turn means that long-distance caregivers have a better way to see how their loved ones are faring.

“You can’t tell on the phone that they’re wearing the same clothes every day, or they’re not bathing because they’re afraid they’ll fall in the shower,” says Amy Goyer, AARP’s national family and caregiving expert and the author of “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving.”

More than 1 in 10 caregivers look after family or friends from a distance, which can make the task much more difficult and expensive. A 2016 AARP survey found that caregivers in general incur an average of about $7,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses. Long-distance caregivers — those who live at least an hour away from the care recipient — incur about $12,000 on average, according to the survey. Long-distance caregivers are more likely than local caregivers to hire help, take unpaid time off work and pay for travel, Goyer says.

In my latest for the Associated Press, tips on providing care from a long distance.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 ways to help small businesses recover from the pandemic. Also in the news: The pros and cons of paycheck advance apps, an update on the housing market, and 23 states that are ending the extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.
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5 Ways to Help Small Businesses Recover From the Pandemic
As a consumer, there are steps you can take to support businesses in your community. Here are five tips from small-business owners.

Should You Use a Paycheck Advance App?
Paycheck advance apps with low fees seem like a good idea if you need extra cash. Here’s what to know about them.

The Property Line: Housing Shortage Hangs On; Price Crash Unlikely
The housing shortage is blamed on factors including regulations and lack of workers. No need to fear a crash, but fixes won’t be easy.

These 23 States Are Ending the Extra $300 Per Week in Unemployment Benefits
Eleven more states join the list.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How poor credit could raise your renters insurance rates. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on buy now/pay later loans and how to start building wealth, crypto-earning credit cards, and the retailers that offer the best employee discounts.

How Poor Credit Could Raise Your Renters Insurance Rates
Having poor credit could make your renters insurance nearly twice as expensive.

Smart Money Podcast: Buy Now, Pay Later Loans and How to Start Building Wealth
These offers are common when shopping online, but they aren’t always a good option.

Crypto-Earning Credit Cards Are All the Rage — But Should You Buy In?
The crypto curious might benefit, but most people will likely do better with a traditional rewards credit card.

These Retailers Offer the Best Employee Discounts
Something to consider if you’re job hunting.

Q&A: Mailing checks really is a bad idea

Dear Liz: I differ with your opinion that electronic payments are far more secure than sending checks through the mail. My own personal experience sending checks for about 40 years with only one mishap (which wasn’t attributable to the USPS) provides great confidence in mail as a payment system. In contrast, not a month goes by without news of some large organization entrusted with all kinds of personal and financial information being breached in a cyberattack. If the bad guys get my credit card information, I’m out no greater than $50. I’m not also going to risk them having my bank account and routing numbers for the dubious convenience of saving a stamp. Yes, mailboxes get broken into, but until there are real penalties for inadequate computer security, corporations will continue to underfund their network security and be reactive instead of proactive. I’ll take my chances with the local thieves and not the worldwide population of black hat hackers.

Answer: You’re quite right that databases where information is stored can be vulnerable to hackers if companies don’t take the proper precautions. But avoiding electronic payments doesn’t keep your information out of those databases. Information about you is collected and stored whether you like it or not. You didn’t contribute your Social Security number, date of birth and credit account details to Equifax, for example, but chances are good you were one of the 147 million Americans whose information was exposed when that credit bureau was breached.

In contrast to some databases, electronic payment transactions have strong encryption that makes it extremely difficult for hackers to intercept and read the information. Criminals would much rather target information that’s at rest in databases than try to capture and decode it in transit.

Your checks are almost certainly being converted to electronic transactions, in any case. Few checks are physically passed between banks these days. Often a biller will take the routing and account numbers that are printed on your check and use them to request an electronic funds transfer through a clearinghouse such as the Automated Clearing House (ACH).

Because those numbers are printed on every check you send out, by the way, anyone who sees that piece of paper, from a mail thief to someone inputting the payment into a company’s computer system, could misuse that information. That’s a far bigger risk than the possibility an electronic payment could be hacked in transit.

Q&A: Does a teenager need a Roth IRA?

Dear Liz: Our 16-year-old daughter has been frugal since she started understanding money at about age 6. She works and makes a decent income for a high school student. Her savings are now quite substantial. She wants to open a Roth IRA while she is young and has no income tax liability. My wife and I have pensions and substantial savings but only one IRA. So we have no idea how to help her open a Roth. What should she do? She has enough money to maximize her contributions every year through high school and college and wants to take full advantage of 50 years of tax-free growth.

Answer: Contributing to a Roth IRA is an excellent way for young people to build wealth, and the earlier they can start, the better.

Traditional IRAs typically offer a tax deduction for contributions but withdrawals are taxable. Roth IRAs, by contrast, don’t offer an upfront tax deduction but withdrawals are tax free in retirement. Opting for a Roth over a traditional IRA makes sense when you expect your tax rate to be the same or higher in retirement.

A $6,000 contribution at age 26 can grow to about $105,000 by retirement age, assuming 7% average annual returns. (That’s a reasonable average for a multi-decade investment in a diversified stock portfolio.)

Make the same contribution at age 16, and the money could grow to over $210,000 by age 67. The extra 10 years of compounded gains effectively doubles the total.

To contribute to an IRA or Roth IRA, people must have earned income such as wages, salary or self-employment income.

They’re allowed to contribute 100% of their earnings during the tax year or $6,000, whichever is less. (People 50 and older can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.) If your daughter earned $4,000 this year, for example, that’s the maximum she could contribute to a Roth for 2021.

Your daughter typically can’t open her own account until she’s 18, so you would need to find a brokerage that offers custodial Roth IRAs. She would be the account owner and you would be the custodian until she turns 18. Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard are among the discount brokerages that offer custodial Roth IRAs without requiring minimum investments or charging maintenance fees.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Crypto-earning credit cards are all the rage – but should you buy in? Also in the news: As travel rebounds, credit cards can unlock perks from a bygone golden age, the pros and cons of becoming your own boss, and all the states offering vaccine rewards.

Crypto-Earning Credit Cards Are All the Rage — But Should You Buy In?
The crypto curious might benefit, but most people will likely do better with a traditional rewards credit card.

As Travel Rebounds, Credit Cards Can Unlock Perks From Bygone Golden Age
A flood of pent-up demand is about to hit airports and hotels. The right credit card can help you hark back to travel’s heyday by dodging some of the lines, the noise and the fees.

Should You Become Your Own Boss?
The pros and cons.

All the States Offering Vaccine Rewards (Including Cash)
See what your state is offering.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The checks that could change your financial life. Also in the news: Should you sign up for Medicare if you’re 65 and still working, 6 signs you’re about to overpay for life insurance, and 7 products being slammed by inflation.

The Checks That Could Change Your Financial Life
A temporary boost to the child tax credit can help fuel emergency savings, cut debt and build financial stability.

Should You Sign Up for Medicare If You’re 65 and Still Working?
Signing up for Medicare at 65 may make sense even if you have private insurance through your or your spouse’s job.

6 Signs You’re About to Overpay for Life Insurance
If you focus on convenience or a policy’s extra benefits, you might pay too much. Here’s what to look out for.

7 Products Being Slammed by Inflation (and How to Avoid Spending More)
From computer chips to steaks.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Scam Alert – Be skeptical of that emergency. Also in the news: How 2 first-gen college students got into their dream schools, what to do if your tax refund is delayed, and what to look for in an offer letter (besides the money).

Scam Alert: Be Skeptical of That ‘Emergency’
Take steps to guard against criminals who may pose as family or friends seeking money in an emergency.

How 2 First-Gen College Students Got Into Their Dream Schools
Focus on what drives you, lean on your resources and don’t quit when going through the college admissions process.

What to Do If Your Refund Is Delayed and Your Bills Aren’t
Coping with IRS delays.

What to Look for in an Offer Letter (Besides the Money)
Other perks to look for.

The checks that could change your financial life

Starting in July, most families with kids will start getting monthly payments of up to $300 per child as part of the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the child tax credit.

The payments are scheduled to end in December, and it’s unclear whether they will be extended. But even six months of payments could make a big difference in many families’ finances.

For some, the money will be a lifeline to pay rent, food and other essential expenses. For others, the cash could be a chance to make lasting changes that could help them become more financially stable.

In my latest for the Associated Press, find out more about the child tax credit expansion.