Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Amazon, Synchrony launch credit builder card. Also in the news: 5 reasons to keep renting, 5 steps to consolidate your debt with a personal loan, and when to use cash instead of credit.

Amazon, Synchrony Launch Secured Credit Builder Card
Amazon targets the secured credit market.

5 Reasons to Keep Renting
More freedom?

5 Steps to Consolidate Your Debt With a Personal Loan
What you need to know.

When to Use Cash Instead of Credit
Going old school.

Q&A: Estate tax versus inheritance tax

Dear Liz: In a recent column, you wrote that “only six states … have inheritance taxes.” My state of Oregon is not listed. Oregon certainly has an estate tax (one of the highest in the U.S.) and Washington also has one.

Answer: Many people confuse estate and inheritance taxes, but they’re not the same thing.

As the name implies, estate taxes are taxes levied on the dead person’s estate. The federal government, 12 states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia have estate taxes.

Only the six states mentioned in the previous column — Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — have an inheritance tax, which is levied on the person who inherits. New Jersey had an estate tax, but that was repealed in 2018, leaving Maryland as the only state with both types of tax.

Q&A: How to boost your credit score before you buy a house

Dear Liz: I am trying to purchase my first home. I have a 20% down payment for the price range that I am looking for. The issue I am running into is that I have relatively new credit and my credit score is not great at all. I had to go to the emergency room two years back with no insurance and have medical expenses that went into collections. I am now in a financial spot to pay them off. These are the only negatives on my credit report that are unresolved. Will paying these off get my credit to the point that I can buy a home? I am lost as to how to get my score where it needs to be.

Answer: Unfortunately, paying collection accounts typically doesn’t help your credit scores, especially the scores used by most mortgage lenders.

Since you’re new to credit, you may not realize that you don’t have just one credit score. You have many. The two major types are FICO and VantageScore. The latest versions of each (FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0), ignore paid collections. In addition, FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0 count unpaid medical collections less heavily against you than other unpaid debts.

But mortgage lenders typically use much older versions of the FICO score, which count all collections against you even if they’re paid.

That said, it would be tough to get a mortgage with unpaid collections on your credit report. Since you have the cash, you may be able to negotiate discounts so that you can resolve these debts at a somewhat lower cost. (Collectors typically would much rather get a lump-sum settlement than wait to be paid over time.)

You’ll also want to get some positive information reported to the credit bureaus to help offset the negative information. The fastest way to do that would be to persuade someone you know who has good credit to add you as an authorized user to one of his or her credit cards. This person doesn’t have to give you the card or any access to the account. Typically, the account history will be “imported” to your credit reports, which can help your scores as long as the person continues to use the card responsibly.

Another way to add positive information is with a credit-builder loan, offered by many credit unions and Self Lender, an online loan site. Usually, credit-builder loans put the money you borrow into a savings account or certificate of deposit that you can claim after you’ve made 12 on-time payments. This helps you build savings at the same time you’re building your credit.

Secured credit cards also can help. With a secured card, you make a deposit with the issuing bank of $200 or more. You get a credit limit that’s typically equal to that deposit. Making small charges on the account and paying it off in full every month can help you build credit without paying interest. You’ll want a card that reports to all three credit bureaus, because mortgage lenders typically pull FICO scores from all three bureaus and use the middle of the three scores to determine your rate and terms.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The lowdown on the new tools to jump-start your credit. Also in the news: How to pass a smog test – and what to do if your car fails, how insurance quotes affect your credit score, and what happens if you hit the Roth IRA income cap.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
How Boost and UltraFICO work.

How to Pass a Smog Test — And What to Do If Your Car Fails
One man’s hard-earned advice.

Does Getting Insurance Quotes Affect Your Credit Score?
The bigger problem is the reverse.

What Happens If You Hit the Roth IRA Income Cap?
Know your contribution limits.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 steps to consolidate your debt with a personal loan. Also in the news: 5 myths about debt consolidation, collection costs on defaulted student loans, and the pitfalls of promotional APR credit cards.

5 Steps to Consolidate Your Debt With a Personal Loan
A to-do list.

Forget These 5 Myths You’ve Heard About Debt Consolidation
Separating truth from fiction.

How Much Are Collection Costs on Defaulted Student Loans?
Your balance could increase by 40%.

Think Long and Hard Before Using a Promotional APR
The small print could get you.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Chase brings back limits on Cardholders’ right to sue. Also in the news: 5 getaways within reach using Southwest’s latest sign-up bonus, how to save for retirement and pay your student loans at the same time, and 8 pieces of financial advice from college commencement speakers.

Chase Brings Back Limits on Cardholders’ Right to Sue
Binding arbitration has returned.

5 Getaways Within Reach Using Southwest’s Latest Sign-Up Bonus
Quick tickets for new customers.

How to save for retirement and pay your student loans at the same time
A budget that pays for the past and saves for the future.

8 Pieces of Financial Advice From College Commencement Speakers
Money lessons and career tips.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What you need to know about working in retirement. Also in the news: 5 reasons to keep renting, how one couple paid off $33K of debt in 18 months, and how to opt of out Chase’s new binding arbitration rule.

What You Need to Know About Working in Retirement
Things to consider as you make your retirement plans.

5 reasons to keep renting
The flexibilities and amenities.

How I Ditched Debt: ‘It Made Our Marriage So Strong’
One couple’s story.

How to Opt Out of Chase’s New ‘Binding Arbitration’ Rule
You have until August 7th.

What will long-term care cost you?

Many people are frightened of long-term care costs — for good reason.

Most people over 65 eventually will need help with daily living tasks, such as bathing, eating or dressing. Men will need assistance for an average of 2.2 years, while women will need it for 3.7 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging.

In my latest for the Associated Press, the high cost of long-term care and why planning ahead is essential.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 reasons to line up a loan before visiting a car dealer. Also in the news: 6 things to know about student loans before you start school, 5 tips to boost your credit card rewards, and why investor interest in CDs is rising.

5 Reasons to Line Up a Loan Before Visiting a Car Dealer
Protecting yourself from the finance department.

6 Things to Know About Student Loans Before You Start School
Important details.

Watch Your Credit Card Rewards Pile Up With These 5 Tips
Even more rewarding.

Why Investor Interest in CDs is Rising
Choosing the security of fixed-interest.

Q&A: Selling an inherited house to a relative will affect tax treatment

Dear Liz: My mother recently died, leaving a house to my three siblings and me. We had the house appraised in February. My sister is buying the rest of us out. We decided to give our sister a break and sold her the house below the appraised amount. As the “selling price” (which will be a public record) will be below the appraisal, can I take my “loss” on my taxes this year? I gave her a $25,000 reduction, so I assume I can take $3,000 a year for eight years. Is this true?

Answer: Probably not.

The sale to a family member probably dooms any chance of taking a capital loss, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for tax and accounting at Wolters Kluwer.

“The law is not entirely clear on this topic with the IRS perhaps taking a more severe stand than the Tax Court, but both seem to frown on any use of the real estate for personal purposes after the death of the parent,” Luscombe said.

For a capital loss, the IRS appears to require that the inherited property be sold in an arm’s length transaction to an unrelated person, Luscombe said. The IRS also requires that you and your siblings did not use the property for personal purposes and did not intend to convert the property to personal use before the sale.

Even the Tax Court cases appear to at least require a conversion to an income-producing purpose before the sale and no personal use of the property after the death of the parent.

“The reader may find a court willing to say that personal use by a sibling is not personal use by the reader, and, from the reader’s perspective, it was converted to investment property,” Luscombe said. “However, since this was a sale to a sibling and not an unrelated person, I think that the IRS would disagree with that position.”