Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 great all-inclusive trips you can book this winter with points. Also in the news: Black Friday strategies that actually work, how to make the most of your 401(k), and how to set boundaries when your family is bad with money.

6 Great All-Inclusives You Can Book This Winter With Points
Get out of the cold.

Shoppers Share Black Friday Strategies That Actually Work
Hit the sales with a plan.

How to make the most of your 401(k)
Mistakes to avoid.

How to Set Boundaries When Your Family Is Bad With Money
Putting yourself first.

Q&A: Avoid this big mistake when paying off debt

Dear Liz: I am 49, single, with no kids. Until about three years ago, I wasn’t even sure how much credit card debt I had. I had less than $200 in savings and I was just plugging along making minimum payments. It turns out I had over $14,000 in credit card debt and $12,000 in student loan debt. The credit card debt was accumulated not from extravagant purchases but rather from living in an expensive city and trying to pursue a dream career. (I worked only three days a week in my “day job” for about 12 years.)

My living expenses have always been modest, but I made a budget, lived even more frugally, and made large monthly payments. In the process I also cashed out my small 401(k), as I have done a couple of times previously. Fast-forward to now — my credit card debt is paid off, my student loan is paid off, I have about five months of living expenses in savings and a reasonable annual income of $60,000. I have no retirement savings, though. What is my next best step to get money accumulating for my old age?

Answer: You’re to be congratulated for taking charge of your financial life, but it’s unfortunate you sacrificed your 401(k) to do so. It rarely makes sense to cash out retirement funds to pay debt. The interest you saved is typically far outweighed by the taxes, penalties and lost future tax-deferred returns you incurred by tapping your 401(k) prematurely.

Fortunately, the budgeting skills you learned will come in handy now that you’re focused on saving for retirement. Continue to make large monthly payments, but direct the money into your 401(k) if you still have one or an IRA if you don’t. If you max out your tax-deductible options, you can continue to put money into a taxable brokerage account.

You should plan to continue working as long as possible and to delay starting Social Security, preferably until your benefit maxes out at age 70. Social Security is likely to be your largest source of income, so the bigger your check, the more comfortable your ultimate retirement will be.

Also, take steps to protect and enhance your biggest current asset — your ability to earn money. Many people are derailed financially in their 50s by unexpected layoffs and health problems. You can improve your chances of being able to earn well into your 60s by taking good care of yourself, investing in new skills and trying to be a top performer at work.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to get your credit disaster-ready. Also in the news: Watch your credit card rewards pile up with these 5 tips, comparing your 401(k) to the average, and what to know about buy now, pay later online loans.

How to Get Your Credit Disaster-Ready
Be financially secure when disaster strikes.

Watch Your Credit Card Rewards Pile Up With These 5 Tips
Stacking strategies.

How Does Your 401(k) Compare to Average?
How your company’s plan stacks up to the competition.

What to Know About Buy Now, Pay Later Online Loans
Pay attention to the fine print.

Q&A: How to make retirement saving a priority

Dear Liz: One thing I like about saving for retirement with an IRA is that I can wait until April 15 of the following year and then just contribute a lump sum for whatever I can afford to put in that year. Is there anything similar with 401(k)? Or do I have to have the contributions come out piecemeal with payroll deductions? I keep revising the percentages, but then there is a lag time between when I revise and when that money is taken out. It is a hassle. It would be much easier to just make a lump sum contribution at the end of the year to my 401(k).

Answer: Many people have unpredictable incomes and variable expenses that make planning tough. If you have a steady paycheck, though, you’d be smart to pay yourself first by making your retirement contributions a priority.

It’s generally smart to contribute at least enough to get the full company match, even if that means cutting back elsewhere. Matches are free money that you shouldn’t pass up. If you can contribute more, even better. For many people, retirement plan contributions are one of the few available ways they can still reduce their taxable income.

If you discover after the end of the year that you could have put in more, you can still make a lump sum contribution to an IRA. Since you have a plan at work, your contribution would be fully deductible if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $64,000 for singles or $103,000 for married couples filing jointly. The ability to deduct the contribution phases out so that there’s no deduction once income is above $74,000 for singles and $123,000 for couples.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Is better credit worth exposing your banking data? Also in the news: The average 401(k) balance by age, 8 common and costly homebuying myths, and why debt collectors may soon be able to text you.

Is Better Credit Worth Exposing Your Bank Data?
Other ways to build credit.

The average 401(k) balance by age
Balances typically increase as you age.

8 Common and Costly Homebuying Myths
Don’t get trapped.

Why Debt Collectors May Soon Be Able to Text You
And email you.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Hit with a tax penalty? The IRS might give you a do-over. Also in the news: Why your 401(k) just got more valuable, how to capture savings on professional photography, and how to talk about money on the first date.

Hit With a Tax Penalty? The IRS Might Give You a Do-Over
How the penalty-abatement program works.

Your 401(k) Just Got More Valuable
New tax laws change the deduction game.

How to Capture Savings on Professional Photography
Pay less for a lifetime of memories.

How to Talk About Money on the First Date
Breaking the financial ice.



Your 401(k) just got more valuable

If your tax refund this year was disappointing, you may be able to do something about it: Contribute more to a retirement fund.

Tax-deductible contributions to 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement accounts are among the few remaining ways to reduce taxable income if you don’t itemize deductions. And few of us do these days: Only about 1 in 10 taxpayers is expected to itemize now that Congress has nearly doubled the standard deduction, tax experts say. That’s down from about 1 in 3 before the law changed.

As a result, many of the traditional tips and tricks for reducing tax bills either no longer work or are of limited help.  In my latest for the Associated Press, how to use your 401(k) to reduce your taxable income.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to give money advice that sticks. Also in the news: 3 steps to spring clean your credit card debt, how to research 401(k) funds on Morningstar, and using a loan to pay your tax bill.

How to Give Money Advice That Sticks
Focus on what you say and how you say it.

3 Steps to Spring-Clean Your Credit Card Debt
Scrub that debt away.

How to Research 401(k) Funds on Morningstar
Navigating the investment research company.

Should You Use a Loan to Pay Your Tax Bill?
Check the interest first.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 steps to spring clean your credit card debt. Also in the news: Trading privacy for car insurance discounts, how to improve your 401(k), and 4 ways to get a low-interest credit card.

3 Steps to Spring-Clean Your Credit Card Debt
Spring is finally here.

Should You Give Up Privacy for Car Insurance Discounts?
Being watched for a discount.

How to Improve Your 401(k)
Dealing with limited options.

4 Ways to Get a Low Interest Rate Credit Card
Get ready to negotiate.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: These 4 tax scams could really cost you. Also in the news: 3 times you can pay taxes with plastic and come out ahead, how to decide between investing in a 401(k) or a Roth 401(k), and the 5 best free money-management apps.

These 4 Tax Scams Could Really Cost You
Here’s how to avoid them.

3 Times You Can Pay Taxes With Plastic and Come Out Ahead
Maximizing your rewards.

Should You Invest in a 401(k) or Roth 401(k)?
Deciding which is best.

The 5 Best Free Money-Management Apps
Managing your finances by phone.