Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The lowdown on new tools to jump-start your credit. Also in the news: The new credit card that pays cash-back rewards for on-time payments, tuition discounts grow at private colleges and universities, and what to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
Learn how they work and if you should use them.

No credit history? This new credit card pays cash-back rewards for on-time bill payments
Introducing Petal.

Tuition discounting grows at private colleges and universities
Tuition costs are dropping.

What to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s
It’s never too early to prepare.

Q&A: Here’s a case where taking retirement funds early might make sense

Dear Liz: My wife and I are both retired and receiving annuity payments. In addition, we have about $1.3 million in traditional IRAs and $350,000 in another annuity that will pay us each about $1,000 per month. We are moving from Texas to Arkansas sometime in the next year. Texas has no state income tax and pretty high property taxes, while Arkansas has lower property taxes but about 6% income tax. We plan to put down about $200,000 on a new home and obtain a mortgage for about $350,000 at about 4% interest.

Does it make sense to withdraw money from the IRA to pay down the amount we need to borrow for the mortgage? I can withdraw about $90,000 without putting us into the next higher federal tax bracket, if that makes any difference, and end up saving $5,400 in Arkansas income tax at the same time.

By my calculations, the return on the $90,000 would be almost $8,000 every year in reduced mortgage payments if we took out a 15-year mortgage. If we did the 30-year loan, that savings would be over $5,000. I don’t think we’ll achieve the same returns on $90,000 leaving those funds invested as they are in bonds or cash.

Answer: It usually doesn’t make sense to tap retirement funds to pay down a mortgage, but your case may be one of the exceptions. You have enough saved that the withdrawal won’t claim a big chunk of your available funds and leave you cash-poor.

We’ll assume you’re over 59½ and won’t face penalties for early withdrawal. If that’s the case, then you’ll also be facing required minimum distributions within a few years. These mandatory withdrawals, which must start after you turn 70½, would subject at least some of this money to taxation. The question is whether you want to pay those taxes now or later, and you’re making a pretty good case for now.

Before you withdraw any money from a retirement fund, however, you should consult with a tax pro or a fee-only financial planner, or both. Mistakes made in early retirement often have irreversible consequences, so you want an objective second opinion before you proceed.

The life-changing magic of working a bit longer

Retirement experts frequently recommend working longer if you haven’t saved enough. But you may not realize just how powerful a little extra work can be.

Researchers who compared the relative returns of working longer versus saving more last year reached some startling findings. In my latest for the Associated Press, how working just a few months longer can bolster your retirement.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 8 ways to keep your travel credit card working for you. Also in the news: How being neighborly can save you money, why new federal student loans are getting cheaper, and to save more for retirement, add this to your budget.

8 Ways to Keep Your Travel Credit Card Working for You
Making sure your card is pulling its weight.

How Being Neighborly Can Save You Money
Borrowing tools and beyond.

New Federal Student Loans Are Getting Cheaper
Interest rates are dropping.

To Save More for Retirement, Add This to Your Budget
Making savings a line item.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Is better credit worth exposing your banking data? Also in the news: The average 401(k) balance by age, 8 common and costly homebuying myths, and why debt collectors may soon be able to text you.

Is Better Credit Worth Exposing Your Bank Data?
Other ways to build credit.

The average 401(k) balance by age
Balances typically increase as you age.

8 Common and Costly Homebuying Myths
Don’t get trapped.

Why Debt Collectors May Soon Be Able to Text You
And email you.

Income can peak before you’re ready

Most retirement calculators are optimistic to a fault. They assume our incomes will rise throughout our working lives, or at least stay roughly the same.

In reality, our incomes are likely to peak years — and sometimes decades — before we retire. In my latest for the Associated Press, why saving early for retirement is crucial.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Are you robbing your parents’ retirement. Also in the news: When is your credit score high enough, when a cash back card is better than travel rewards, and how to pay for your pet’s healthcare.

Are You Robbing Your Parents’ Retirement?
Parents helping their adult kids at the expense of their future.

When Is Your Credit Score High Enough?
Your credit health matters.

It’s OK If Travel Rewards Cards Aren’t for You
A cash back card could be better.

How to Pay for Your Pet’s Healthcare
Taking care of your furkids.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How income-based student loan repayment is calculated. Also in the news: The ideal debt-to-income ratio for student loan refinancing, why you might be eligible for a TurboTax refund, and how adult children are eating into their parents’ retirement savings.

How Is Income-Based Repayment Calculated?
Determining your monthly student loan payment.

Debt-to-Income Ratio for Student Loan Refinancing
Below 50% is the target.

You Might Be Eligible for a TurboTax Refund
If you paid to file, read this.

Adult children are eating into parents’ retirement savings: Study
Putting retirement on the back burner.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you should ask your parents about their financial plans. Also in the news: Why you no longer need a chip-and-PIN card overseas, earning and burning your airline rewards to maximize free flights, and 1 in 4 millennials raiding 401(k)s early to pay down debt.

Yes, You Should Ask Your Parents About Their Financial Plans
Life moves fast.

Do You Need a Chip-and-PIN Card? Probably Not Anymore
“Chip-and-signature” becoming widely accepted overseas.

‘Earn and Burn’ Your Airline Rewards to Maximize Free Flights
Use your miles as soon as possible.

Yikes: 1 in 4 millennials raiding 401(k)s early to pay down debt
Risking retirement.

Q&A: Nearing retirement and in debt? Now isn’t the time to tap retirement savings

Dear Liz: I’m 60 and owe about $12,000 on a home equity line of credit at a variable interest rate now at 7%. I won’t start paying that down until my other, lower-interest balances are paid off in about two years. I have about $130,000, or about 20%, of my qualified savings sitting in cash right now as a hedge against a falling stock market. Should I use some of that money to pay off the HELOC? I know I would pay tax on what I pull out of savings, but I’m not sure what the driving determinant is: the tax rate now while I’m working versus tax rate later after retirement? I don’t think there’s going to be a 7% difference in that calculus but please provide your recommendation.

Answer: There are enough moving parts to this situation, and you’re close enough to retirement, that you really should hire a fee-only financial planner.

Getting a second opinion is especially important when you’re five to 10 years from retirement because the decisions you make from this point on may be irreversible and have a lifelong effect on your ability to live comfortably.

In general, it’s best to pay off debt out of your current income rather than tapping retirement savings to do so. You’re old enough to avoid the 10% federal penalty on premature withdrawal, but the decision involves more than just tax rates. Many people who tap retirement savings haven’t addressed what caused them to incur debt in the first place and wind up with more debt, and less savings, a few years down the road.

That might not describe you, as you seem to be on track paying off other debt. But it’s usually best to tackle the highest-rate debts first, which you don’t seem to be doing. It’s also not clear if you’re saving enough for retirement. That will depend in large part on when you plan to retire, when you plan to claim Social Security, how much your benefit will be and how much you plan to spend.

A fee-only financial planner could review your circumstances and give you the personalized advice you need to feel confident you’re making the right choices. You can get referrals from a number of sources, including the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, Garrett Planning Network and XY Planning Network.