Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you may not want to be an executor. Also in the news: 5 ways to foil catalytic converter thieves, 3 money habits to carry forward from the pandemic era, and how to avoid fees when paying your taxes.

Why You May Not Want to Be an Executor
Settling someone’s estate can be time-consuming and difficult, plus you could be sued.

5 Ways to Foil Catalytic Converter Thieves
Catalytic converter thefts have soared during the pandemic.

3 Money Habits to Carry Forward From the Pandemic Era
According to a new survey, 78% of Americans report that the pandemic spurred them to take financial action.

How to Avoid Fees When Paying Your Taxes
Some options are better and cheaper than others.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Is it harder for seniors to get credit cards? Also in the news: Factoring in fees on grocery, delivery, what to do if losing your job means losing your life insurance, and there’s still time to claim your missing $500 stimulus for dependents.

Is It Harder for Seniors to Get Credit Cards?
Even with more time to build history, seniors may have a hard time getting credit.

For grocery delivery, add fees to the list
Convenience comes at a cost.

What to do if losing your job means losing life insurance
Examining your options.

There’s Still Time to Claim Your Missing $500 Stimulus for Dependents
Another opportunity to get your stimulus.

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: Scrub these expenses from your budget in 2019. Also in the news: 3 simple strategies to max out your 401(k), how your slow cooker saves you money, and unnecessary fees to stop paying in the new year.

Scrub These Expenses From Your Budget in 2019
Hitting reset on your expenses.

3 Simple Strategies to Max Out Your 401(k)
It’s easier than you think.

How Your Slow Cooker Saves You Money
Set it and forget it.

Stop Paying Unnecessary Fees in the New Year
The most common fees and how to avoid them.

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 you’re mad at your credit card company

Dear Liz: This past summer I was traveling in a foreign country and the email alert that a credit card payment was due did not reach me. Upon returning to the U.S. and attempting to use the card, I was verbally assaulted over the phone by a credit card company representative demanding payment. I’m 80 and have never missed paying off any credit card charge at the end of the billing cycle or paid a penny in credit card interest. The card company reported the missed payment, lowering my credit score 133 points.

This is no way to run a business! I’ve cut up both cards and closed all accounts I had with this company. I had no problem getting a card from another issuer. I’d think that best practice in my case would have been a flag raised on their computers that the missed payment was unusual. A polite contact could have been made, the check would have been in the mail the next day and the company would still have a customer.

Answer: Being verbally assaulted after a one-time lapse suggests either a poorly trained representative or a company that doesn’t care much about customer service. Unfortunately, your leverage to get the missed payment taken off your credit reports pretty much disappeared when you closed your accounts. Some card issuers will make such “goodwill” adjustments to keep longtime customers, but others won’t. It’s always worth asking before you take your business elsewhere.

Now that you have your new card, please consider setting up some kind of automatic payment so this doesn’t happen again. Credit card companies typically offer the option to have your minimum payment, your full balance or a dollar amount in between pulled from your checking account. Making sure that at least the minimum is paid can prevent further damage to your credit scores.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Zap the fees that eat away at your wealth. Also in the news: Back-to-school sales for adults, the average retirement savings by age, and how to get free financial advice.

Zap the Fees That Eat Away at Your Wealth
Americans pay close to $400,000 in fees over their lifetime.

You’re Never Too Old for a Good Back-to-School Sale
Stock up on clothes and accessories.

The Average Retirement Savings by Age and Why You Need More
You can never have enough savings for retirement.

How to Get Free Financial Advice
It’s readily available.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Cryptocurrency for beginners. Also in the news: How credit card rewards made a couple’s dreams come true, when to tell your partner that you’re in serious debt, and why you should get a new bank if you’re paying fees.

Cryptocurrency for Beginners: 7 Questions to Ask
Understanding the hottest money trend.

How Credit Card Rewards Made Their Dreams Come True
Building rewards with an ultimate goal in mind.

Ask Brianna: Should I Tell My Partner I’m in Serious Debt?
When it’s time to confess.

If You’re Paying Fees of Any Kind, Get a New Bank
Don’t pay for your banking.

Refusing to pay could hurt you more than them

Oh, the injustice of it all.

Who among us hasn’t felt abused as a consumer? We get billed for stuff we didn’t receive, or that doesn’t work, or that didn’t live up to its hype. Companies charge us unexpected fees and insist the costs were revealed in the fine print. Health insurers take customer disservice to a whole new, awful level, inexplicably refusing to pay for services they promised to cover and deluging us with impossible-to-decrypt paperwork.

It’s understandable if you feel that enough is enough. But taking a righteous stand against paying an unfair bill can boomerang on you — hard.

In my latest for the Associated Press, situations where you might be tempted to refuse to pay, and what you might want to consider doing instead.

Q&A: Professional investment management fees

Dear Liz: I have an IRA with over $100,000 at a discount brokerage. I had it in a target date fund. Due to market downturns, I got nervous and was convinced to put my investment into the brokerage’s portfolio advisory services with additional fees coming to $1,600 per year. In general, is it wise to change investments to these more professional services?

Answer: If professional management keeps you from bailing out of your investments when markets decline, then paying a higher fee may be justified. But the higher the fees you pay, the less money you can accumulate. For example, your IRA could grow to more than $600,000 over 30 years if you net a 6% return. If your fees are one percentage point higher, and you net just 5%, you’d end up with less than $450,000.

Some discount brokers, including Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard, now offer a low-cost “robo” option that invests your money using computer algorithms. These robo options don’t offer the highly customized investment portfolios that some other services provide, but they come at a much lower cost — typically 0.3% to 0.4%. A few, including Vanguard and Betterment, offer access to financial advisors.