Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to prioritize debt payments in the pandemic. Also in the news: The fairness of airline fees, the influence of 2020 on investing, and how to avoid paying certain car dealership fees.

How to Prioritize Debt Payments in the Pandemic
The rules have changed.

Ask a Travel Nerd: Are Airline Fees Fair?
The process of buying a plane ticket can be misleading because you aren’t shown all of the fees upfront.

Will 2020 Make Us More Empathetic Investors?
Investment dollars can make an impact, so be sure your impact is a good one.

Avoid Paying These Car Dealership Fees
Know which fees you have to pay, which ones you can negotiate, and which ones you can avoid altogether.

How to prioritize debt payments in the pandemic

A singular crisis has led to extraordinary relief options for borrowers. Interest and payments have been paused on federal student loans. Homeowners can request nearly a year of mortgage forbearance. Credit card issuers and other lenders dramatically expanded hardship programs.

Still, many Americans say they took on more debt last year because of the pandemic, according to NerdWallet’s household debt survey.

If you are one of them, or if you have other household debt that’s been put on hold, you may not want to rush to pay that money back even if you can. In my latest for the Associated Press, how to be strategic when dealing with pandemic-related and other debt.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 things to know if you’re new to gig work. Also in the news: How to craft smarter money goals in 2021, the do’s and don’ts of getting and using a paycheck protection program loan, and 5 steps you can take to pay off consumer debt.

3 Things to Know if You’re New to Gig Work
To the IRS, you’re a small business.

How to Craft Smarter Money Goals in 2021
The pandemic has changed everything.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting, Using a Paycheck Protection Program Loan
Best practices that can help small businesses owners get their PPP loan funded and forgiven.

5 steps you can take to pay off consumer debt
Creating the right plan.

Q&A: Should you pay down debt with extra cash? It may not be the best plan during a pandemic

Dear Liz: I’m a teacher on an income-based repayment plan for my federal student loans. I don’t qualify for any loan forgiveness programs for teachers because I teach in an affluent area. Right now, interest and payments on federal education loans have been suspended because of the pandemic.

I’m trying to decide what to do when payments have to restart. Should I pay down a chunk of the loans from the money that accumulated in my savings from not having to make loan payments since April? Or pick back up where I left off with making near-double payments to get down the principal (slowly) and pay off loans in another five to six years? Or only make the minimum income-based payments while waiting to see if the new administration offers more comprehensive loan forgiveness for teachers? Thank you for any insights.

Answer: Although you may not qualify for loan forgiveness through programs meant to help underserved communities, you can still qualify for the federal public service loan forgiveness program. This program erases debt for schoolteachers and other public servants after they’ve made 120 qualifying payments toward their federal student loans.

You can learn more about this program at the U.S. Department of Education site. Follow the rules carefully because many people who thought they were on track to get forgiveness have discovered otherwise.

If you’re eligible, consider making only the minimum payments on your loans so that the maximum amount is forgiven. Even if you’re not eligible for forgiveness, though, you don’t necessarily want to rush to pay off this relatively low-rate, tax-deductible debt.

You should be on track with your retirement savings, have paid off all other, higher-rate debt and have a substantial emergency fund before you make extra payments on education debt (or a mortgage, for that matter). “Substantial” means having three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. If your job is anything less than rock solid, you may want to set aside even more.

Keep in mind that the money you send to your lenders is gone for good; you can’t get it back should you need it later.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Unpacking the myths of investing in the stock market. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on buying cryptocurrency and tackling debt, life insurance companies are becoming more marijuana-friendly, and asking for reconsideration after being denied a credit card.

Unpacking the Myths of Investing in the Stock Market
These stock market myths have no place in your portfolio.

Smart Money Podcast: Buying Crypto and Dealing With Debt
Understanding cryptocurrency and how to tackle your debt head on.

Smoke Weed and Need Life Insurance? Some Companies Are Cool With Marijuana
Not every life insurer is willing to cover marijuana users, but some don’t mind — provided it isn’t a daily habit.

Call a Reconsideration Line for a Second Chance at a Credit Card
Taking a second look.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 financial experts who could steer your wrong. Also in the news; More Americans are saving than ever before, though in unequal amounts, do’s and don’ts for planning your travel on points this year, and how to make debt less costly when you need it in a crisis.

4 Financial ‘Experts’ Who Could Steer You Wrong
Be cautious about taking advice from sources who care more about their profits than your financial health.

More Americans Are Saving Than Ever Before, Though in Unequal Amounts

Ask a Points Nerd: Should I Book Award Travel for 2021?
Here are some do’s and don’ts for planning your travel on points this year.

How to Make Debt Less Costly When You Need It in a Crisis
Americans have taken on more debt as the pandemic brought widespread job and income losses, according to a survey.

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.