Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Dodge dealership dread with online used car sellers. Also in the news: What first-time home buyers should know about fixer-uppers, how to save for the future when it’s uncertain, and how long it takes for paid debt to be reported to credit bureaus.

Dodge Dealership Dread With Online Used Car Sellers
Car shop from your couch.

What First-Time Home Buyers Should Know About Fixer-Uppers
Don’t get trapped in a money pit.

How to save for the future when it’s uncertain
An emergency fund is crucial.

Here’s How Long It Takes for Paid Debt to Be Reported to Credit Bureaus
Be patient.

Q&A: How to boost your credit score before you buy a house

Dear Liz: I am trying to purchase my first home. I have a 20% down payment for the price range that I am looking for. The issue I am running into is that I have relatively new credit and my credit score is not great at all. I had to go to the emergency room two years back with no insurance and have medical expenses that went into collections. I am now in a financial spot to pay them off. These are the only negatives on my credit report that are unresolved. Will paying these off get my credit to the point that I can buy a home? I am lost as to how to get my score where it needs to be.

Answer: Unfortunately, paying collection accounts typically doesn’t help your credit scores, especially the scores used by most mortgage lenders.

Since you’re new to credit, you may not realize that you don’t have just one credit score. You have many. The two major types are FICO and VantageScore. The latest versions of each (FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0), ignore paid collections. In addition, FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0 count unpaid medical collections less heavily against you than other unpaid debts.

But mortgage lenders typically use much older versions of the FICO score, which count all collections against you even if they’re paid.

That said, it would be tough to get a mortgage with unpaid collections on your credit report. Since you have the cash, you may be able to negotiate discounts so that you can resolve these debts at a somewhat lower cost. (Collectors typically would much rather get a lump-sum settlement than wait to be paid over time.)

You’ll also want to get some positive information reported to the credit bureaus to help offset the negative information. The fastest way to do that would be to persuade someone you know who has good credit to add you as an authorized user to one of his or her credit cards. This person doesn’t have to give you the card or any access to the account. Typically, the account history will be “imported” to your credit reports, which can help your scores as long as the person continues to use the card responsibly.

Another way to add positive information is with a credit-builder loan, offered by many credit unions and Self Lender, an online loan site. Usually, credit-builder loans put the money you borrow into a savings account or certificate of deposit that you can claim after you’ve made 12 on-time payments. This helps you build savings at the same time you’re building your credit.

Secured credit cards also can help. With a secured card, you make a deposit with the issuing bank of $200 or more. You get a credit limit that’s typically equal to that deposit. Making small charges on the account and paying it off in full every month can help you build credit without paying interest. You’ll want a card that reports to all three credit bureaus, because mortgage lenders typically pull FICO scores from all three bureaus and use the middle of the three scores to determine your rate and terms.

How debt ‘solutions’ could dig you in deeper

Americans are slipping ever deeper into hock. To cope, many people turn to debt consolidation loans, cash-out mortgage refinancing and retirement plan loans that promise relief but could leave them worse off.

Paying off high-rate debt such as credit cards with lower-rate loans may seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, many of these loans have hidden costs and drawbacks. And consolidation by itself can’t fix the problems that led to the debt in the first place. In my latest for the Associated Press, how such loans can make matters worse.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: There’s more than one way to slay a debt. Also in the news: How to know when it’s OK to spend, 3 steps to spring cleaning your credit card debt, and what to do when you desperately need help with medical bills.

There’s More Than One Way to Slay a Debt
These key points could help.

How to Know When It’s OK to Spend
Loosening the purse strings.

3 Steps to Spring-Cleaning Your Credit Card Debt
Time to shake the dust off.

What To Do When You Desperately Need Help With Medical Bills
Looking into medical debt forgiveness.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Paying debt back home vexes expats. Also in the news: 6 surefire ways to delay your tax refund, can your employer cure your money woes, and how paying your credit card minimum puts you in a debt spiral.

Paying Debt Back Home Vexes Expats
When your debt follows you around the world.

6 Surefire Ways to Delay Your Tax Refund
Avoid them to get your refund faster.

Can Your Employer Cure Your Money Woes?
Debt solutions as employee benefits.

How Paying Your Credit Card Minimum Puts You in a Debt Spiral
Paying just the minimum won’t make a dent.

Can your employer cure your money woes?

Millions of Americans get their health insurance and retirement accounts through their employers. Now some are getting help with their debt.

Companies including insurer Aetna and accounting firm PwC help employees pay down student loans. Others partner with startups to offer debt solutions as an employee benefit. In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at the approaches employers are taking to help employees with debt.

Q&A: Stop judging that overspending friend

Dear Liz: My friend is not good with money. He has always lived above his means. He lived in a fancy apartment, leases a BMW and goes out to eat often. To make matters worse, he lost his job a year ago and had to move in with a mutual friend. He continues to spend money he doesn’t have. I tried to help him with his finances and setting a budget, but he lost interest after one conversation. He’s 41 with no savings and more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

My question: Should I feel guilty about inviting him to things? When he was unemployed, I suggested doing things that don’t cost money, but he never seemed interested. I’m planning a trip for my 40th birthday and I’d like to invite him, but I don’t think he has the self-control to say, “No, I can’t go, I can’t afford it” because it will add $2,000 or more to his debt. How do you deal with someone when you’re more concerned with his financial well-being than he is?

Answer: You let go of the idea that you’re responsible for another person’s behavior.

Financial planners often encounter clients who, despite the planners’ best efforts, sail blissfully on toward economic disaster. And those clients paid for the advice that could save them. You’re not being paid. Your friend may not have even asked for your help. So you can stop offering it.

This will be hard for you. You understand how important it is to avoid credit card debt and save for the future. You may be thinking that if you could come up with the right words, you could persuade him to change his ways. Give up that fantasy, because he won’t change — if he ever does — one second before he’s ready.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare for that moment, if it ever comes. The first is to let go of any judgmental attitudes and feelings you might have about his situation. He may already feel a lot of shame about his circumstances. Even if he doesn’t, he’s unlikely to seek you out if he feels judged and blamed.

The next is to look for other resources that might help him, such as a financial counselor or coach. You can get referrals from the Assn. for Financial Counseling & Planning Education. He may find it easier to work with a professional than a friend.

Finally, resist the urge to offer opinions or observations about his situation. He knows you’re there to help if he ever wants it, so wait to be asked.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 tips for cutting the cost of having your taxes done. Also in the news: How to find the dirt on your tax preparer, making the most of a gig economy to pay down debt, and 11 smart ways to spend your tax refund.

5 Tips for Cutting the Cost of Having Your Taxes Done
How to rein in the costs.

How to Find the Dirt on Your Tax Preparer
Don’t give your info to just anyone.

How I Ditched Debt: Making the Most of a Gig Economy
A woman pays down over $25K in three years.

11 smart ways to spend your tax refund, according to personal finance experts
Don’t think of it as a windfall.

Q&A: Options for high debt, low income

Dear Liz: I’m 87 and drowning in debt, owing more than $21,000 with an income of $23,000 from Social Security and two small pensions. I don’t like the idea of debt consolidation but is that better than bankruptcy? My only asset is a 2003 car.

Answer: Debt consolidation merely replaces one type of debt (say, credit cards) with another, typically a personal loan. You are unlikely to qualify for such a loan and even if you did, your situation wouldn’t improve much if at all because your debt is so large relative to your income.

You may be confusing debt consolidation with debt settlement, which is where you or someone you hire tries to settle debts for less than what you owe. Debt settlement can take years and may not result in much savings, since the forgiven debt is considered taxable income and hiring a debt settlement company can cost thousands of dollars. In addition, people in the debt settlement process risk being sued by their creditors. Bankruptcy is typically a better option for most people because it costs less, is completed more quickly and ends the threat of lawsuits.

You may not need to file for bankruptcy, however, if you’re “judgment proof,” which means that even if you stop paying your creditors and they successfully sue you, the creditors wouldn’t be able to collect on those judgments. That’s typically the case when someone’s income comes from protected sources, such as Social Security and certain pensions, and they don’t have any assets a creditor can seize.

Please discuss your situation with a bankruptcy attorney who can review your options. You can get a referral from the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at www.nacba.org.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Get to know your 401(k) plan. Also in the news: How one couple ditched debt, having the talk about college costs with your teen, and what to do if you’re affected by Marriott’s huge data breach.

Get to Know Your 401(k) Plan
Everything you need to know.

How I Ditched Debt: ‘We Have Choices Again’
One couple’s story.

Having ‘The Talk’ About College Costs With Your Teen
Keeping expectations in check.

What to Do If You’re Affected by Marriott’s Data Breach
Over 500,000,000 customers are affected.