Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You owe interest on a 0% APR credit card. How did that happen? Also in the news: How to choose the right health plan, how to win big on Black Friday, and how your travel plans affect which Medicare coverage you should choose.

You Owe Interest on a 0% APR Credit Card. How Did That Happen?
Could be several reasons.

How to Choose the Right Health Plan
Happy Open Enrollment season!

Win Big on Black Friday by Buying This — and Not That
Creating a Black Friday strategy.

How your travel plans affect which Medicare coverage you should choose
Yes, you read that correctly.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to choose the right health plan. Also in the news: Your data is out there: how to take action, 7 retirement savings mistakes financial advisors see too often, and what to do if you haven’t filed your taxes in years.

How to Choose the Right Health Plan
Open enrollment season is here.

Your Data Is Out There: Don’t Freak Out, Do Take Action
Taking preventative measures.

7 Retirement Savings Mistakes Financial Advisors See Too Often
How they help their clients recover.

What to Do If You Haven’t Filed Your Taxes in Years
Time to come clean.

How to choose the right health plan

When we’re given a choice about our health care plans, we often choose badly.

In one study, more than 80% of the employees at a Fortune 100 company picked the wrong plans, often choosing low-deductible options that ultimately cost them more. Another study found that inertia — sticking with the same plan, rather than evaluating the options each year and choosing a better one — cost workers an average $2,032 annually.

In my latest for the Associated Press, steps to help you pick a better plan.

Q&A: Here’s a big tax mistake you can easily avoid

Dear Liz: I’m self-employed and my wife wasn’t working last year. In December, we returned to California and found a small home to purchase using $107,000 I took out of my IRA. Since we weren’t quite certain of what our income would be, we received our health insurance in Oregon through an Affordable Care Act exchange.

When we filed our taxes we got hit with a $20,000 bill for the insurance, because we earned too much to qualify for subsidies, and a $10,000 bill for the IRA withdrawal. Our goal was to own our home outright, which we do, but now we have a $30,000 tax bill hanging over us.

Can we work with the IRS somehow on this? We didn’t “earn” the $107,000; we invested it in a home. It wasn’t income, so why should we be punished for using our savings to purchase a home?

Answer: If you mean, “Can I talk the IRS out of following the law?” then the answer is pretty clearly no. The IRA withdrawal was income. It doesn’t matter what you did with it.

Consider that you probably got a tax deduction when you contributed to the IRA, which means you didn’t pay income taxes on that money. The gains have been growing tax deferred, which means you didn’t pay tax on those, either.

Uncle Sam gave you those breaks to encourage you to save for retirement, but he wants to get paid eventually. That’s why IRAs and most other retirement accounts are subject to required minimum distributions and don’t get the step-up in tax basis that other investments typically get when the account owner dies.

(If you did not get a tax deduction on your contributions, by the way, then part of your withdrawal should have been tax-free. If you’d contributed to a Roth IRA, your contributions would not have been deductible but withdrawals in retirement would be tax-free.)

The IRS does offer long-term payment plans that may help. People who owe less than $50,000 can get up to six years to pay their balances off. You would file Form 9465 to request a payment plan. The IRS’ site has details.

Here’s a good rule to follow in the future: If you’re considering taking any money from a retirement account, talk to a tax professional first. People often dramatically underestimate the cost of tapping their 401(k)s and IRAs; a tax pro can set you straight.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news


Today’s top story: 5 empowering tips for women on Equal Pay Day. Also in the news: 5 smart ways to invest your tax refund, 7 ways to trim your taxes in retirement, and how changes to the ACA might affect your insurance premiums.

5 Empowering Tips for Women on Equal Pay Day
It’s time to bridge the gap.

5 Smart Ways to Invest Your Tax Refund
Putting it towards the future.

Taxes in Retirement: 7 Ways to Trim Your Bill
Making your retirement a little less stressful.

How Changes to the ACA Might Affect Your Insurance Premiums
Playing the waiting game.






Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 reasons to choose a college based on price. Also in the news: 3 times you can pay taxes with plastic and come out ahead, 7 tax changes investors should watch for when they file, and why you should check your hospital bill against your explanation of benefits.

3 Reasons to Choose a College Based on Price
Avoiding high debt.

3 Times You Can Pay Taxes With Plastic and Come Out Ahead
Building card perks.

7 Tax Changes Investors Should Watch For As They File
Investors face several new changes.

Check Your Hospital Bill Against Your Explanation of Benefits
Billing mistakes are rampant.

Q&A: How to find affordable healthcare insurance

Dear Liz: I am 25 and work two part-time jobs, neither of which offers health insurance. Once I’m 26, I will no longer be able to remain on my parents’ policy. Do I need a full-time job to receive health benefits, or do I have other options?

Answer: You currently have other options, but you may still want to look for a full-time job that offers this important benefit.

Although a Texas judge ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, the law giving people access to health insurance remains in effect while legal challenges play out. You can start your search for coverage at www.healthcare.gov. The open enrollment period for most people has ended, but some states including California have extended the deadline to Jan. 15. In addition, you would qualify for a “special enrollment” period once you turn 26 and lose eligibility for coverage on a parent’s plan.

If the ACA does go away, health insurance may become harder to qualify for and more expensive. Group health insurance through an employer may become your best option.

How to save money on health care

Americans on average spend more on health care than they do on groceries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Consumer Expenditure Survey. Saving money on medical care is a lot tougher than saving money on food, however. Two big culprits: opaque pricing and ever-changing insurance company rules about what’s covered and what’s not.

For help in cutting costs, I turned to a uniquely qualified individual: Carolyn McClanahan, an emergency room doctor turned certified financial planner. McClanahan, director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, frequently speaks at industry conferences, teaching other advisors how to help their clients best navigate the health care system.

In my latest for the Associated Press, the three questions everyone should ask to save money on health care.

Q&A: Moving for cheaper foreign healthcare can be stressful

Dear Liz: My husband is 55 and we are hoping to retire in five years. That gives us time to clean up our outstanding debt (the house, car and credit card debt from medical bills). We have a little over $1 million saved. He was recently offered early retirement but didn’t take it because of our debt and my health problems. I have end-stage liver disease and recovered from liver cancer. I have been collecting disability for a while.

I’m doing relatively well for my condition. However, at any time my health can take a bad turn. So I was interested in what you said about living in other countries to get affordable healthcare. If we were to do that, how long would we need to live there to qualify for healthcare? Should we talk to a tax preparer and financial advisor?

Answer: Residency requirements to qualify for public healthcare vary by country, said Kathleen Peddicord, founder of the international living site Live and Invest Overseas. “In some cases it’s instant, in others it could take years,” she says.

In most countries, anyone who is employed or self-employed can instantly access the public system. Some countries allow non-workers to opt into this system by volunteering to pay into it, but there may be restrictions for those with pre-existing conditions. If you’re collecting Social Security disability, you probably have Medicare, but that coverage typically doesn’t extend abroad.

Expatriates in good health can use an international medical plan to bridge any gaps in coverage, but those policies also typically exclude preexisting conditions. You might have to settle for a more limited travel medical plan that would expire after six months and need to be renewed, she said. Given your serious health issues, that could be problematic.

Then there’s the potentially enormous stress of moving to a foreign country, adapting to a different culture and possibly learning a new language. Even in countries with excellent healthcare, finding specialists who can help you manage your condition, and who can communicate clearly with you, can be a hassle.

If you can find advisors familiar with life in the country of your choice, that could be helpful, but you’ll probably be doing a lot of research on your own. Before you decide to move, you should make at least one and preferably a few trips to the country to get a better idea of the challenges.

Q&A: The fat in your genes/jeans

Dear Liz: In one of your recent answers, you said “avoiding obesity” was part of choosing healthier lifestyles. The problem with that statement is that a large percentage of people cannot avoid obesity, because obesity is “wired” into their genes or otherwise into their personal biological makeup. People range all over the spectrum. I personally knew a guy who would normally eat four Double Double burgers plus fries when he ate at In-N-Out Burger, and he didn’t exercise, but he was trim as a telephone pole. But guys in my family have large lumps of extra fat on their bodies, even if we don’t eat that much.

Your casual mention unfortunately reinforced the false notion that people who have obese bodies always are that way because they eat poorly or too much, while people with trim bodies are always that way because they eat wisely and exercise. That false notion just makes life harder for those of us who have obesity regardless of how we eat. I’m sure you didn’t intend to make my life more difficult at all, but that’s the effect that such casual allusions have. It would be best to stick with unassailable phrases such as “eating wisely.”

Answer: Some people definitely are blessed with faster metabolisms, and research indicates that others have a genetic predisposition to packing on weight. But obesity is largely preventable, according to the World Health Organization and other medical authorities.

The WHO recommends that individuals limit the fats and sugars they eat, increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts; and engage in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes spread through the week for adults). Programs such as Weight Watchers or 12-step groups such as Overeaters Anonymous can help provide support. You may never be skinny, but you can definitely take steps to improve your health.