Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to choose a Medicare prescription drug plan in 5 steps. Also in the news: Should you go back to school like many grads are, it’s time to audit your autopay subscriptions, and 1 in 5 Americans could be out of money by Election Day.

How to Choose a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan in 5 Steps
It’s important to remember that the drugs covered and the costs you pay under Plan D can change year to year.

More Grads Are Going Back to School: Should You?
Consider the options, price and return on investment before returning to graduate school.

It’s Time to Audit Your Autopay Subscriptions
Stop paying for services you don’t use.

1 in 5 Americans could be out of money by Election Day
More than 20% of Americans have less than three weeks of financial runaway

Q&A: Retirement funds and creditors

Dear Liz: I keep reading conflicting things about 401(k)s and IRAs. If I roll over my 401(k) from my previous employer into an IRA, is it still protected from creditors? I’ve left it in the old 401(k) plan for now because I’ve read IRAs can be seized in lawsuits or bankruptcy, or alternatively that only $1 million is protected and the rest could be at risk. I’ve read that if I leave it in the 401(k), the whole amount is protected. Can you please help clear up this confusion so I can make a wise decision?

Answer: Your 401(k) is protected from creditors, full stop. Federal law bans creditors from taking money in a pension plan that was set up under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and that includes 401(k)s as well as traditional pensions.

Your IRA is protected in bankruptcy court up to a certain amount, currently $1,362,800. Whether creditors outside of bankruptcy court can access your IRA funds depends on state law. In California, for example, there’s no specific dollar amount.

If a creditor wins a judgment against you and goes after your IRA, a court would decide how much of the account was necessary for your support and protect that. The rest could go to the creditor.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 ways to skip your bank’s long phone lines. Also in the news: Keeping your credit in shape, even if you don’t have debt and don’t plan to borrow, 25 ways to save yourself from your debt disaster, and how to set up a 60/40 budget.

3 Ways to Skip Your Bank’s Long Phone Lines
When phone wait times are long, try to reach your bank via live chat, Twitter or message instead.

Keep your credit in shape, even if you don’t have debt and don’t plan to borrow
Good credit is important year-round.

25 Ways To Save Yourself From Your Debt Disaster
Climbing out of the debt hole.

How to Set Up a 60/40 Budget
Focus on two buckets.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Credit score drop? How to diagnose why and what to do next. Also in the news: Put off debt payments to start saving now, going contactless as a way to pay safer, and many unemployed people aren’t aware of all the relief they may qualify for during the pandemic.

Credit Score Drop? How to Diagnose Why, and What to Do Next
If you got a payment modification and saw a score drop, it’s tempting to think they’re related. They may not be.

Put Off Debt Payments to Start Saving Now
In uncertain times, it makes sense to prioritize building a cash reserve over paying down debt balances.

Looking for Safer Ways to Pay? Go Contactless
Contactless payments like mobile wallets, P2P apps and tap-to-pay cards are easy to use and help lessen risk of contagion.

Many unemployed people aren’t aware of all the relief they may qualify for during the pandemic
Take a look at what’s available.

Q&A: Big debt is bad in the coronavirus downturn. But a consolidation loan might not be the answer

Dear Liz: I have about $40,000 in credit card debt and am considering a consolidation loan. I’m current with my cards. My income is about $130,000 per year. Can you recommend a lender? Any cautions?

Answer: As you probably know, this is a bad time to be burdened with a lot of debt. But taking out another loan may not be the answer.

Personal loans — the type of unsecured loan often used to consolidate other debt — work out best when you can lower the rate on your debt, get it paid off within three to five years and avoid accruing more debt while you do so.

Unfortunately, people who take out consolidation loans often don’t, or can’t, fix the problem that caused the debt in the first place. If the debt came from overspending, for example, they don’t trim their expenses to match their income and wind up borrowing more. If the debt is from medical bills, ill health may cause them to incur more medical-related debt.

Another issue is interest rates. Personal loans typically have fixed rates, which is good, along with fixed payments so you actually pay off the debt over time. That’s in sharp contrast to credit cards, which usually have variable rates and minimum payments that don’t pay down much of your principal.

Unless your credit is good and your income secure, though, you may wind up paying a higher rate than you are now — assuming you can get a personal loan at all. Lenders have tightened their standards considerably in recent weeks because of the current and expected economic fallout from the pandemic.

Many people are better off paying down their debt on their own, making extra payments to get their highest-rate card paid off first, and then moving to the next-highest-rate card, while paying minimums on the rest. (Another approach is to pay the smallest balance first, to give yourself a psychological win that can motivate you to keep going.)

If you can’t pay more than the minimums, then you’re likely in too much debt to dig your way out on your own. Consider making appointments with a credit counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and with a bankruptcy attorney (the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys offers referrals) so you can better understand your options.

Q&A: A shutdown reality check

Dear Liz: Recently a reader asked about withdrawing money from an IRA to pay credit card debt. You mentioned the many ways that was a bad idea, including the fact that retirement money is protected in bankruptcy court. Liz, the writer had only $10,000 in credit card debt. Bankruptcy should be a last resort. A lifestyle change or picking up a second job would be a better route to knocking out the debt.

Answer: “Picking up a second job” — really? Most people will be lucky to hang on to the ones they have in the coming months.

No one suggested that this reader should file bankruptcy, but anyone considering taking money from a retirement plan to pay debt should understand this major drawback — especially now. Bankruptcy experts expect business and personal bankruptcy filings to soar because of the pandemic.

You might want to check your other assumptions, as well. People typically don’t wind up in bankruptcy court because they refused to cut out their lattes or didn’t work hard enough. They get sick or disabled, lose their health insurance, get divorced, have a breadwinner die — or get stuck in a pandemic. Those with higher incomes and more savings may be better able to weather financial setbacks, but few of us are truly immune from their effects.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to have a ‘no regrets’ retirement. Also in the news: How to sell your car to family and friends, the debt payoff method that can also help your credit, and your last chance to file an Equifax breach settlement claim.

How to Have a ‘No Regrets’ Retirement
Putting off travel, buying a retirement home too hastily and not discussing expectations are common mistakes.

How to Sell Your Car to Tough Customers: Friends and Family

The Debt Payoff Method That Can Help Your Credit, Too

Today (Wednesday) is Your Last Chance to File an Equifax Breach Settlement Claim
A few more hours to submit your claim.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to create a retirement ‘paycheck’. Also in the news: Handy money rules of thumb for a quick financial checkup, how one woman ditched nearly $60K of debt in less than a year, and the retirement savings blind spot you don’t realize you have.

How to Create a Retirement ‘Paycheck’
Creating a reliable retirement income stream is complex but worth it.

Handy Money Rules of Thumb for a Quick Financial Checkup
Stop winging your way through it.

How I Ditched Debt: A Spender, a Saver and Dreams of a Family
How one woman conquered nearly $60K of debt in less than a year.

The retirement savings blind spot you don’t realize you have
You could be retiring too early.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: When leasing a car is the more frugal option. Also in the news: How to actually achieve your debt payoff resolution, 5 basic features you should expect from your bank, and holiday debt could take years to pay off.

When Leasing a Car Is the More Frugal Option
Car buying has changed enough over the years that leasing may no longer be the costliest choice.

How to Actually Achieve Your Debt Payoff Resolution
Start the new year on the right foot.

5 Basic Features You Should Expect From Your Bank
Services you should expect.

Holiday debt could take years to pay off
Here come the bills.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Letting go of shame over your debt. Also in the news: How to get the highest credit card welcome bonuses, 3 tax mistakes you’re probably making today, and what to do when debt collectors keep calling for someone else.

It’s Time to Let Go of Shame Over Your DebtIt’s counterproductive and does nothing to solve the problem.

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/travel/how-to-get-highest-credit-card-welcome-bonuses/
Get ready to shop around.

3 Tax Mistakes You’re Probably Making Today
Avoid these mistakes at all costs.

What to Do When Debt Collectors Keep Calling for Someone Else
Knowing your rights.