Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How your house payments can unexpectedly increase. Also in the news: Why grandparents should be careful with 529 plans, why right now could be the right time to refinance your student loans, and six reasons why early retirement could be a mistake.

4 Ways Your House Payment Could Unexpectedly Go Up
Don’t get caught off guard.

Grandparents: Don’t Make a 529 Plan Mistake
529 disbursements come with some risks.

Now Could Be the Right Time to Refinance Your Student Loans
Taking stock of your student loan situation.

6 reasons early retirement might be wrong for you
What sounds like a good idea might not be.

Q&A: Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

Dear Liz: My in-laws have gifted stock to our children through the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) to help pay future college expenses. The value of the stock has increased significantly over the past few years.

We would like to sell the shares and move the proceeds into more stable investments for our children. What are our options for those funds? Do you recommend one option over another? I don’t expect them to get much need-based financial aid.

Our household income is approximately $95,000 a year. We have 529 plans for each of our three children and account currently has $6,000 to $9,000.

Answer: If you only have one child in college at a time, then you’re right that you probably won’t get much need-based aid.

If, however, your kids are close enough in age that more than one will attending college simultaneously, you may qualify for more help than you think. One way to find out is to use the EFC Calculator at the College Board website, which can give you an estimate of the amount your family is expected to contribute to higher education costs.

If your kids may get need-based financial aid, then they probably shouldn’t have money in UTMA or other custodial accounts. UTMA accounts and their predecessor, Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UGMA accounts, used to be a good way to save on taxes but changes to the so-called “kiddie tax” rules have made them less appealing.

Income from the accounts above $2,000 a year for children under 19 and full-time college students under 24 is now taxed at the parent’s rate. What’s more, these custodial accounts count heavily against families in financial aid calculations.

Often it’s best to spend down the money by the child’s junior year in high school (by paying for tutoring, a laptop, private school or other expenses that benefit the child.)

Another option is to transfer the proceeds to a 529 college savings plan, since these state-run investment accounts typically are viewed favorably in financial aid formulas. What’s more, the plans offer professional management and diversified portfolios known as “age-weighted” options that grow more conservative as a child approaches college age.

You’ll want to talk to a tax pro about what makes sense in your specific situation, especially since selling the shares all at once may trigger a big tax bill.

Q&A: 529 plans vs. education tax breaks

Dear Liz: You recently mentioned in your column that you can’t use any of the three education tax breaks — the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit or the tuition and fees deduction — for expenses paid with 529 college savings plan money. This has me wondering if those 529 plans are really worth it.

Wouldn’t you have to have a really large amount invested to have enough earnings to make it worth not taking one of the credits?

Answer: If college were cheap, that might be a problem. But most people have far more college expenses than they can write off on their tax returns.

The average net price for one year at a four-year college — the published cost minus free financial aid such as grants and scholarships — was just under $13,000 last year, including tuition, fees, room and board. The average net price was around $6,000 at two-year public colleges and $23,550 at private four-year schools.

Many people pay a lot more, as the sticker prices at colleges continue to rise.

As mentioned in the previous column, the three available tax breaks are mutually exclusive, so you can’t take more than one in any given year.

The most generous credit, the American Opportunity Credit, reduces taxes dollar-for-dollar for the first $2,000 of college expenses and then by 25% of the next $2,000 — for a total of $2,500 per student.

If your qualified education expenses exceed $4,000, as they probably will, those tax-free 529 plan withdrawals will come in handy.

Weekend reading: Purging paperwork, unpayable taxes and saving for college

taxesOne of the great things about being a columnist is getting access to experts who can help you with problems in your own life–under the guise of helping your readers, of course. Recently I was lucky enough to interview three smart CPAs who had great advice about purging paperwork from our lives, and have already implemented their suggestions. Paperlessness, here I come!

Another column that got a good amount of attention was one on two-year degrees that pay well. Not everyone wants or needs to go to a four-year school, and some are better off. Here are those stories plus the other columns I did for Reuters last month.

Financial records: What to keep, what to toss

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I resolve every tax season to get a better handle on my paperwork — with mixed results. This year, I turned to three certified public accountants to find out what apps, software and strategies they use to keep track of everything.
Two-year degrees can really pay off
Steven Polasck of Corpus Christi, Texas, liked math and science in high school. He considered attending a four-year college but ultimately decided to use his strengths to get a two-year degree in instrumentation from Texas State Technical College. He has not looked back. “I went to work on the Monday after graduation,” said Polasck, 27, who monitors and fixes systems at a Valero Energy Corp refinery. “The first year I made almost $80,000.”

College savings take a dive – study
Average amounts saved for college have fallen 25 percent since last year and fewer middle-income families are saving for higher education, even as parents overwhelmingly endorse its value as an investment, according to “How America Saves for College 2015,” the latest survey by education lender Sallie Mae.
What to do when you can’t pay your tax bill
Affluent clients facing a big tax bill often have one of two reactions, according to CPA and financial planner Jerry Love: They either try to avoid filing or they want to negotiate a deal. Neither is a good strategy, he said.
College watch list a ‘caution light’
Regulators recently made public a once secret watch list of 556 colleges under scrutiny for financial irregularities. But inclusion on the list doesn’t automatically mean the schools are about to fail, according to Department of Education regulators, college officials and even the reporter who triggered the release of the list with his Freedom of Information Act requests.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to cut your monthly bills. Also in the news: College savings mistakes, how to survive a late start in saving for retirement, and what everyone needs to know about credit scores.

6 ways to cut your monthly bills
Every little bit helps.

The Biggest Mistakes People Make Saving For College
It’s all about tools.

Starting Your Retirement Savings Late Doesn’t Mean You’re Screwed
There’s still time.

10 things everyone should know about credit scores
Deciphering the mysteries.

How to Develop a Foolproof Plan to Pay Off Debt
Create your escape plan.

What you need to know about paying for college

My recent Reuters columns have focused on some of the most common issues families face in trying to pay for college, from getting the most financial aid to how to cope when you haven’t saved enough. Read on, and please share these columns with people you know who might benefit.

Increase economic mobility by busting college myths

One way to improve economic mobility in the United States may be to fix the misconceptions that high-achieving, low-income teenagers often have about college.

Avoid easy-to-make mistakes on your financial aid application

One of the worst mistakes you can make with college financial aid is simply failing to file the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But there are plenty of other ways to mess up this application.

Last-minute moves to boost financial aid

Financial aid filing season starts Jan. 1. It may be too late to rearrange your finances this year, but here are some ideas for maximizing what you can get in future years. First, though, make sure your hopes are realistic.

What to do if you have not saved enough for college

Soaring college costs and stagnant incomes mean many families will not be able to save enough to pay for a typical undergraduate education. But there are still ways to find a college degree you can afford. The good news is that most people will pay significantly less than the sticker prices.

Busting the myths of haggling for college aid

My daughter learned this little ditty in preschool: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Parents who are convinced they can haggle their way to a better financial aid package might want to learn it, too.

No need for irrational fears of student loans

The next generation of college students has heard the message loud and clear about the perils of taking on too much student loan debt – so much so that many are unwilling to go into debt at all in order to attend college. The drawback to this wariness is that most of those who do not borrow are unlikely to get four-year degrees.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How student loan servicers are trying to trick you. Also in the news: When to use your debit card instead of credit, saving for your kids’ college education, and tips on getting and staying out of debt.

6 Ways Student Loan Servicers Are Trying to Trick You
Pay close attention to every correspondence.

7 Times to Use a Debit Card Instead of a Credit Card
Don’t pay the interest unless absolutely necessary.

How Much Do You Plan on Saving for Your Kids’ College Education?
Planning for one of life’s biggest expenses.

10 Ways to Get Out — and Stay Out — of Debt
Good advice.

Does Bad Credit Last Forever?
Waiting it out.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

22856641_SAToday’s top story: How Americans sabotage their savings. Also in the news: Ways you can make your children’s college dreams come true, the best credit cards for holiday shopping, and the multitude of ways you can get a free copy of your credit score.

5 Ways Americans Sabotage Their Savings
Stop doing them.

The Simple Path to Making Your Children’s College Dreams Come True
Relatively speaking.

3 Best credit cards this holiday season
Maximizing bonuses.

The Many Ways You Can Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Score
You have no excuse not to get one.

Babies born today get free $500 mutual fund investment
One day only!

Q&A: Graduation gifts and financial aid

Dear Liz: Our grandson’s stellar high school performance and his family financial situation were such that he was admitted to his state university with grants sufficient to pay all school fees, including room and board, with no loans or work-study. His grandmother and I have a 529 account in his name that has enough money to pay about twice his estimated books and living expenses, given this level of financial aid.

His other grandparents gave him a high school graduation present of a check for four times the annual estimated books and living expenses. Does he need to amend this year’s financial aid form to reflect this generous gift? Should I suggest he put part of the gift aside for future years to diminish the effect on future financial aid?

Because of his unexpected gift, we plan to not use the funds in the 529 account until needed for his undergraduate or possible graduate school expenses. If he doesn’t need the money, we plan to transfer the balance to his younger sister’s 529 account.

Answer: Your grandson won’t have to amend this year’s financial aid forms but he will have to declare the gift on next year’s form. That could indeed reduce his financial aid package, since such gifts are considered to be the student’s income and thus will be counted heavily against him next year.

There’s not much that can be done about it now, but generous grandparents in this situation might think about holding off on their gifts until the student’s final year in college when financial aid is no longer a consideration. Paying that last year’s expenses, or paying down any student loan balances, would be a gift without repercussions.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to protect yourself from credit card breaches. Also in the news: The best ways to pay for college, how to avoid year-round tax scams, and what happens to your debt after you die.

Shelter yourself from payment card breaches
How to protect both your finances and your identity while shopping.

The Best Ways to Pay for Your Child’s College Education
How to combat the rising cost of a college education.

Tax-related scams don’t hit just during tax season
Beware of these year-round scams targeting your taxes.

Who Will Inherit Your Debt When You Die?
One thing you don’t want to leave behind.

Why These 4 Personal Finance Myths Perpetuate Money Problems
Monday mythbusting.