Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Could you live on your retirement savings for 23 years? Also in the news: How a new pilot manages $116,000+ in loans, what your tax refund will look like this year, and the top 10 colleges for financial aid.

Could You Live on Your Retirement Savings for 23 Years?
How long will your money last?

Debt Diary: How a New Pilot Manages $116,000+ in Loans
A payoff strategy.

What Your Tax Refund Will Look Like This Year
It might not be as much as you think.

The top 10 colleges for financial aid
Some colleges are quite generous.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The average 401(k) balance by age. Also in the news: Taking the next step with your student loans, 3 money tasks to do right now, and what to do with all the tax documents you’re receiving.

The Average 401(k) Balance by Age
How do you match up?

Take the Next Step With Your Student Loans in 2019
Setting small goals.

3 Money Tasks You Need to Do Right Now
Starting the year off right.

What to Do With All the Tax Documents You’re Getting Right Now
What to keep and what to toss.

Q&A: Is it smarter to save for retirement or pay off debt first?

Dear Liz: I graduated from college in May and began a full-time job in October making $36,000. I also do freelance work and receive anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month from that. I live at home, so I don’t have to pay for rent or groceries, which really helps. Currently, I have just over $18,800 in student loans at an average interest rate of 4.45%. I have also opened a Roth IRA.

My plan currently is to contribute $500 a month to my IRA in order to max it out, and pay $700 a month to my student loans in order to get them out of the way quickly. Or is it better to skip the Roth and put that extra $500 toward my student loans? That way, I would be debt free when I move out of my parents’ house next year. The stock market has done nothing but fall since I opened my account, and I am reading that it could do the same this year as well. But I have also read that it’s good to just keep consistently contributing to an IRA when your debt isn’t high-interest to reap the rewards of compounded returns.

Answer: It’s generally a good idea to start the habit of saving for retirement early and not stop. What the market is doing now doesn’t really matter. It’s what the market does over the next four or five decades that you should care about, and history shows that stocks outperform every other investment class over time.

The $6,000 you contribute this year could grow to about $100,000 by the time you’re in your 60s, if you manage an average annual return of around 7%. (The stock market’s long-term average is closer to 8%.) And Roth IRAs are a pretty great way to invest, because withdrawals are tax-free in retirement.

That said, your other option isn’t a bad idea either. You are not proposing to put off retirement savings for years while you pay off relatively low-rate debt, which clearly would be a bad idea. Instead, what you’re losing is the opportunity to fund a Roth for one year. That’s an opportunity you can’t get back — but you could fully fund the Roth next year, and perhaps use some of your freelance money to fund a SEP IRA or solo 401(k) as well.

Either way, you should be fine.

Q&A: Why do 401(k) and IRA contributions have such different rules?

Dear Liz: Can you please explain to me why the IRS allows an employee in a workplace 401(k) to contribute $19,000 but a wage earner without a 401(k) can contribute only $6,000 to an IRA? This seems grossly unfair. Why does one group get to save three times as much for retirement?

Answer: Congress works in mysterious ways, and this is far from the only weird byproduct of tax law.

The 401(k) and the IRA were created through different mechanisms.

The 401(k)’s birth was almost accidental. Benefits consultant Ted Benna created the first 401(k) savings plan in 1981, using a creative interpretation of a section of IRS code. Benna crafted the plan to provide an alternative to cash bonuses, not to replace traditional pensions — although that’s what it ended up doing.

IRAs, by contrast, were created deliberately by Congress in 1974 to provide a way for people to save independent of their employers.

Raising the IRA limit would be costly to the budget, while decreasing 401(k) limits would be unpopular, since so many people rely on them for the bulk of their retirement savings.

You aren’t, however, limited to saving only $6,000 annually for retirement. You can always save more in a taxable account. You wouldn’t get the tax deduction for contributions, but your investments can qualify for favorable long-term capital gains treatment if you hold them for at least one year.

Q&A: A required minimum distribution headache

Dear Liz: For more than four years my husband has had to take a required minimum distribution from his 457 deferred compensation plan. We have always chosen when to do that, knowing that it has to be done by Dec. 31.

This year we processed the distribution on Dec. 28 to take advantage of stock market movements. We saw the direct deposit of that transaction hit our savings account as planned. To our astonishment, we got a letter (dated Dec. 27 but received after Jan. 1) from the plan’s trustee informing us that “as a courtesy” it had initiated a required minimum distribution “on our behalf.” The letter even “assisted” us with information on how we can “establish a recurring RMD” in the future. We received a check in the mail Jan. 5 for this unnecessary and unwanted distribution.

Not only is this a duplication of my husband’s RMD for this account, but this distribution also may push us into a higher tax bracket. It also sets me up for a further increase in my Medicare B premiums because of the higher income.

I have searched but could not find any information on how to roll this back or how they could have been so bold, and under what authority they took the liberty to babysit a depositor. Can you provide any information?

Answer: Before any more time passes, put the money into an IRA and keep documentation of the “redeposit,” said Robert Westley, a CPA and personal financial specialist with the American Institute of CPAs’ PFS Credential Committee.

The plan provider likely will send a 1099-R form that includes the second withdrawal, so you’ll need this documentation to avoid taxation on the extra money. If you don’t already have a tax pro to help you, consider hiring one to help you navigate this.

Some retirement plans, including 457s, have language that allow forced distributions, since many people either don’t understand the requirement or choose to ignore it. But your husband clearly was not in that group.

Your husband can call the 457 plan provider to find out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Or he might just roll this 457 into an IRA at another provider.

This advice assumes that the plan is a governmental 457, which allows rollovers into an IRA. If it’s a non-governmental 457, however — the kind used for highly paid executives in private companies — the rollover option doesn’t exist and you might be stuck with a higher tax bill.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Quick ways to save more money in 2019. Also in the news: Medical bills plague millennials, 3 simple strategies to max out your 401(k), and the basics of Parent PLUS loan forgiveness.

Quick Ways to Save More Money in 2019
Focusing on the simple.

Medical Bills Plague Millennials; These Tips May Be the Cure
Making medical debt more managable.

3 Simple Strategies to Max Out Your 401(k)
Increasing your retirement savings at any income level.

The Basics of Parent PLUS Loan Forgiveness
Who’s responsible for repayment?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to make the most of the Child Tax Credit this year. Also in the news: 4 reasons to ditch your old debit card, getting to know your 401(k) plan, and how to choose the best tax software.

How to Make the Most of the Child Tax Credit This Year
The tax credit is doubling for 2018.

4 Reasons to Ditch Your Old Debit Card
New card, new perks.

Get to Know Your 401(k) Plan
Everything you need to know about your retirement savings.

How to Choose the Best Tax Software for You This Year
DIY vs finding a pro.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 mental tricks to help you save more for retirement. Also in the news: How to boost your chances of getting a personal loan, answers to your HELOC questions, and how to get your finances in order before the new year.

4 Mental Tricks to Help You Save More for Retirement
Staying on the right path.

Boost Your Chances of Getting That Personal Loan
5 tips that could help your chances.

Answers for Your HELOC Questions in 10 Words or Less
Understanding your home equity line of credit.

Get Your Finances in Order Before the New Year
The clock is ticking.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Do your kids a favor and pick retirement savings over tuition. Also in the news: 18 of the best Black Friday deals, Navient’s student loan practices are under fire, and how much it costs to have a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Do Your Kids a Favor: Pick Retirement Savings Over Tuition
Looking at the bigger picture.

18 of the Best Black Friday 2018 Deals
Serious savings.

Navient’s student loan practices raise questions in federal audit
Deceptive tactics.

How much does a float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade cost?
The helium costs will surprise you.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How today’s low taxes can nurture your nest egg. Also in the news: 4 questions to ask before you DIY, how a single mom masterminded a $700K swing from debt to savings, and how the new UltraFICO credit score will work.

How Today’s Low Taxes Can Nurture Your Nest Egg
New tax laws present a golden opportunity.

4 Questions to Ask Before You DIY
Doing it yourself could end up costing more.

Single Mom Masterminds $700K Swing From Debt to Savings
Learn how she did it.

Here’s How the New UltraFICO Credit Score Will Work
FICO scores are in for a big change.