Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Speedier payment systems could curb your costs. Also in the news: Black Friday vs. Prime Day: How they stack up, 5 signs an online loan is a debt trap, and everything you need to know about your 2020 taxes.

Speedier Payment Systems Could Curb Your Costs
Real-time payments could save Americans billions.

Black Friday vs. Prime Day: How They Stack Up
71% of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday.

5 Signs an Online Loan Is a Debt Trap
Look for the warning signs.

Here’s everything you need to know about your 2020 taxes
There’s a new tax code.

Speedier payment systems could curb your costs

Here’s an illustration of the many ways slow payment systems can inconvenience you and cost you money.

Let’s say Homer is two days from payday. The family checking account at First Bank of Springfield is on fumes. There’s just enough in the account, Homer thinks, to gas up his Plymouth sedan and buy Bart a Squishee at the Kwik-E-Mart.

But Marge checked the account balance too, and thought she could safely buy groceries. Because Homer and Marge didn’t realize they were spending the same money, one of the transactions triggers an overdraft fee. Plus, they forgot the power bill is due, and utility owner Mr. Burns charges a wicked late fee.

Homer hits up Lenny and Carl for a loan, but Lenny uses Venmo, Carl uses PayPal and Homer uses only Zelle. Lenny writes Homer a check, but it’s from National Bank of Springfield, so First Bank puts a hold on the deposit. Desperate, Marge breaks into Lisa’s piggy bank for money to pay the power bill, but has to pay a fee to “expedite” a same-day bill payment.

The animated “Simpsons” television show might use this scenario to get laughs, but it’s not funny for Americans who pay billions of dollars in overdraft charges and late fees , thanks in part to antiquated payment systems. The most vulnerable people turn to high-cost payday loans to bridge cash flow gaps, and some leave the banking system altogether because of high, unpredictable fees.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how a change at the Federal Reserve could speed up payments dramatically.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 cheaper alternatives to popular vacation spots. Also in the news: How credit unions fit in your financial life, how to prepare for an economic downturn, and the fee the IRS is waiving for more than 400,000 filers.

5 Cheaper Alternatives to Popular Vacation Spots
Save some money while still having a great trip.

How Credit Unions Fit in Your Financial Life
An alternative to traditional banking.

How to Prepare for an Economic Downturn
Don’t be caught off guard.

The IRS will waive this 2018 tax penalty for more than 400,000 filers
Waiving the underpayment fee.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How credit unions fit in your financial life. Also in the news: How to recover from being rejected for a personal loan, 5 simple ways to get out of credit card debt faster, and 9 ways to teach kids about money.

How Credit Unions Fit in Your Financial Life
More personal banking.

Rejected for a Personal Loan? Here’s How to Recover
Start asking why.

5 Simple Ways to Get Out of Credit Card Debt Faster
Tips to hack away at your debt.

9 Ways to Teach Kids About Money
Get them started early.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Regretting your Equifax settlement choice? You can change it. Also in the news: What to buy (and skip) in August, considering CDs as savings interest rates fall, and how to wean your adult child off your credit cards.

Regrets About Your Equifax Settlement Choice? You Can Change It
You might want that credit monitoring after all.

What to Buy (and Skip) in August
Let the back-to-school shopping begin.

When Savings Rates Fall, CDs Might Appeal
Interest on savings is about to take a dive.

How to Wean Your Adult Child Off Your Credit Cards
Setting an expiration date.

Q&A: Mysterious bank charge needs investigating

Dear Liz: The other day I went to my credit union to withdraw $1,000 to pay for my sister’s burial. The bank teller kept $90 and gave me only $910. Is that done when a person withdraws cash from a bank account? I got very angry and complained to the manager of the bank, but to no avail. He did not do anything to try and get my money for me. I am a low-income senior citizen and appreciate any kind of advice you could give me.

Answer: It’s hard to imagine any legitimate bank fee that would take almost 10% of a cash withdrawal. In any case, the manager should have been able to explain why the money was taken. If the teller stole the money from you and the manager simply didn’t believe you, calling the police may have been an option. A count of the teller’s till might have revealed the discrepancy.

Consider returning to the credit union with a friend as a witness and asking the manager to explain why the teller kept $90 from your withdrawal. If the explanation doesn’t satisfy you, you can lodge a complaint with the credit union’s regulator. The National Credit Union Assn. regulates federal credit unions and can be found at NCUA.gov. For a state-chartered credit union, contact your state’s financial services regulator.

Q&A: What to do when your bank gets picky about accepting a power of attorney

Dear Liz: My husband’s brother had a stroke and is now incapacitated. My husband needs to take over his finances. The bank will not accept the durable power of attorney that they set up 14 years ago because it is “too old.” Another bank asked me if it was set up less than six months ago, because that would avoid problems. How can you do the right thing if there are so many obstacles?

Answer: Banks and other financial institutions have gotten so persnickety about accepting powers of attorney that some states have passed laws forcing them to do so — and yet people still report having problems, even in those states!

Many institutions want you to use their own forms, which may not be possible once someone is incapacitated. Even if the person is willing to fill out the form before the fact, using a financial institution’s power of attorney can create problems if the language in those forms contradicts the person’s other estate planning documents. Then there’s the sheer hassle factor, especially if the person has accounts at multiple banks and brokerages.

You may be able to break through this logjam by hiring an attorney to contact the bank. You can get referrals to lawyers experienced in this issue from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why traditional credit scores still matter. Also in the news: Staying ahead of travel scams, banks still playing with financial fire, and the benefits to maxing out your retirement contributions early in the year.

Newfangled Data Aside, Credit Scores Still Matter
Those 3 numbers still reign supreme.

Stay a Step Ahead of Travel Scams
Traveling safely.

After ’08 Meltdown, Banks Still Play With Financial Fire
And we’re the ones who get burned.

Should You Max Out Your Retirement Contributions Early in the Year?
A new study shows interesting results.