Our #CreditChat is about to begin!

liz-westonIn a few minutes I’ll be answering your questions about how to deal with your debt on Experian’s #CreditChat, which starts at 3 p.m. Eastern/noon Pacific today. Topics include how to balance savings and paying off debt, which debts to tackle first, how to handle student loans and what to do if you’re drowning in debt. Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat.

Please join us!

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

heart of flowers and plants in sandDOMA struck down, squeezing the most out of free credit reports,  the smartest places in America, and how to get the most car for your buck.

Preparing for Marriage Equality

What the Supreme Court decision means for the marital finances of LGBT couples.

How to Get the Most Out of Free Credit Reports
The best times to take advantage of your free credit reports.

Tips for Moving During Your Retirement Years
What things to consider before moving.

The Most Educated Places In America Is your city one of the smartest?

Luxury Car Alternatives for Less
Get the trappings of a luxury car without emptying your wallet.

The Slippery World of Online Pricing
Learn the five factors that make online pricing so fluid.

Gay marriage: more taxes, more benefits

Champagne glassesThe Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act means that gay married couples will have access to the federal benefits now enjoyed by other marrieds.

These benefits include tax breaks, Social Security benefits and estate planning advantages that until now were denied gay couples, even if their marriages were recognized under state law.

Among other things, gay marrieds will now be able to:

  • claim Social Security benefits based on a spouse’s working record and qualify for survivor benefits.
  • fund an IRA or Roth IRA for a nonworking spouse.
  • split a retirement fund or other assets without triggering tax bills if they divorce.
  • exempt health care benefits for a spouse from their federal income.
  • bequeath their estate to a spouse without triggering potential federal estate taxes.

These gains may come with a cost: as NerdWallet puts it, “federal income tax brackets are in fact easier on high-income individuals than they are on most high-income married couples.” NerdWallet figured that same-sex couples earning more than $146,000 may see their tax bill go up by over $1,000.

One of my gay friends, a financial planner, just posted to her Facebook page that her taxes are likely to go up by several thousand dollars. But she was happy, as she put it, to “take one for the team.”

 

Please join me today for a #CreditChat on Twitter

liz-westonI’ll be featured as the guest expert on Experian’s #CreditChat at 3 p.m. Eastern today. I’ll be tweeting advice and tips about a bunch of important issues, including:

·         When to focus on savings and when to pay down debt

·         What debts to tackle first and which can wait

·         What to do about your student loans

·         What you should know before applying for a mortgage or auto loan

·         What to do if you’re drowning in debt

So come chat with me! Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

creditImproving your credit score, making the economy work for you, and how that video you just posted on Facebook could come back to haunt you.

How Can I Build My Credit Score?
Ten steps to better credit.

Buying a House? Don’t Make These Mistakes
Don’t be sidetracked by fixable mistakes.

7 Smart Money Moves in an Improving Economy
How to make the improving economy work for your money.

Don’t Let Your Social Media Footprint Kill Your Job Prospects
What you post on Facebook today could keep you unemployed tomorrow.

The Pros & Cons Of Cell Phone Insurance
Having insurance on a fragile smartphone sounds like a good idea. But does it make financial sense?

In case you missed it: paying off your mortgage and using onine advisors

Offering AdviceMortgage rates may be headed up, but many of us locked in crazy-low interest rates while we could. So should we just enjoy our good fortune, or is there an argument for paying off even super-cheap debt? I discuss what my husband and I decided to do in “When to pay down your mortgage.”

Online financial advice is finally coming into its own, with two predominant models: the computerized portfolio, which offers diversifed investing at very low cost, and the virtual human, which uses technology plus contact with a real advisor. The first model could be a great fit for the DIY-er who understands how fees can hold back your returns, while the second works on both the high and low ends, providing advice and a personal touch at a lower cost than you might find elsewhere. Read more at “Investing sites give planners a run for their money.”

 

Monday’s need-to-know money news

The hackerProtecting your finances online, helping your kids build their credit and when to start saving for retirement.

FBI Warns of New ‘Wire Transfer’ Scheme
How to keep your money safe from internet thieves.

How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge
The easiest ways to get your money back.

How Young People Can Begin to Build Credit
Sharing your credit could just be the best way to start.

7 Retirement Decisions that Affect the Rest of Your Life
When you start saving could make the difference forty years down the line.

How much college savings is enough?

Dear Liz: My husband and I have three children, two in elementary school and one in middle school. Through saving and investing, we have amassed enough money to pay for each of them to go to a four-year college. In addition, we have invested 15% of our income every year toward retirement, have six months’ worth of emergency funds and have no debt aside from our mortgage and one car loan that will be paid off in a year. Considering that we have all the money we will need for college, should we move this money out of an investment fund and into something very low risk or continue to invest it, since we still have five years to go until our oldest goes to college and we can potentially make more money off of it?

Answer: Any time you’re within five years of a goal, you’d be smart to start taking money off the table — in other words, investing it more conservatively so you don’t risk a market downturn wiping you out just when you need the cash. The same is true when you have all the money you need for a goal. Why continue to shoulder risk if it’s not necessary?

You should question, though, whether you actually do have all the money your kids will need for college. College expenses can vary widely, from an average estimated student budget of $22,261 for an in-state, four-year public college to $43,289 for a private four-year institution, according to the College Board. Elite schools can cost even more, with a sticker price of $60,000 a year or more.

Another factor to consider is that it may take your children more than four years to complete their educations, particularly if they attend public schools where cutbacks have made it harder for students to get required courses in less than five years, and sometimes six.

So while you might want to start moving the oldest child’s college money into safer territory and dial back on the risks you’re taking with the younger children’s funds, you probably don’t want to exit the stock market entirely. A 50-50 mix of stocks and short-term bonds or cash could allow the younger children’s money some growth while offering a cushion against stock market swings.

A session with a fee-only financial planner could give you personalized advice for how to deploy this money.

Career change in midlife requires caution

Dear Liz: I went through divorce three years ago (after 20 years being together). I’m now 41 and broken financially and emotionally. I’m wondering if I should sell my small place and move in with my mother or stay broke and tough it out so I can keep my own place. I work part time, which was fine when I was married. Should I return to college and start a new “second half of life career”? I love my job and I’m torn.

What do you recommend? I can’t survive on my income alone and pay my bills. It’s never ending and I’m stressed beyond measure!

Answer: Recovering from a big setback such as a divorce is tough. But continuing to struggle in a situation that doesn’t work makes little sense. You need enough income to cover your bills and save for the future.

If you sell your place and move in with your mother temporarily, you could continue working part time in the job you love while getting a degree that would qualify you for a better, full-time job. You’ll need to make this investment carefully, since you’ll have only a couple of decades for the money you spend (or borrow) to pay off. A two-year degree might make more sense than a four-year course of study, for example.

You’ll want to pick a well-paying job in an industry that’s growing, and you should limit the amount of student loan you take on to no more than you expect to make your first year out of school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a list of the fastest-growing jobs, and their median salaries, at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm. Your local community college probably also has a career services center where you could talk to counselors about your options.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Leader of business teamThe best places to work when you’re over 50, how not to support your kids for the rest of your life and tips on retiring almost tax free.

The 50 Best Employers for Boomer Workers
The fifty best employers for those over fifty.

5 Methods for Setting Retirement Targets
Strategic planning to reach your retirement goals.

5 Tips for Parents On How to Be Good Financial Role Models
Being a good financial role model could save you from supporting your kids in their 20’s and beyond.

How to Negotiate Financial Aid With Your College
Everything is negotiable; even financial aid.

3 Moves to Make Your Retirement Almost Tax Free
How to pursue as much tax free retirement income as possible.