Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The 6 big retirement mistakes and one way to avoid them. Also in the news: Decode your credit card’s fine print like a pro, use caution when shopping with buy now/pay later, and avoid ATM fees by getting cash back at the store.

The 6 Big Retirement Mistakes — and One Way to Avoid Them

Decode Your Credit Card’s Fine Print Like a Pro
Terms you need to know.

Buying Now and Paying Later? Handle With Care
Proceed with caution.

Avoid ATM Fees By Getting Cash Back at the Store
Skip a stop and the fees.

The 6 biggest retirement mistakes, and 1 defense

One of the biggest retirement mistakes you can make is not realizing what you don’t know.

I regularly hear from people in or near retirement who misunderstand how Social Security works, dramatically underestimate life expectancies or fail to plan for big expenses, such as long-term care or taxes.

These aren’t folks looking for advice. They’ve already made up their minds and want to argue about financial planning precepts, such as when to take Social Security or how much retirement is likely to cost. But what they think they know just isn’t so.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why people don’t get objective financial advice before they retire and how to change course.

Q&A: Avoid this hidden risk to your retirement

Dear Liz: I have very low net worth and just inherited $500,000 from a cousin’s annuity. My net worth includes a $400,000 house with a $290,000 mortgage at 3.75%, IRA accounts of $65,000 and savings of $90,000. I also have a pension from which I receive $50,000 annually and from which our health insurance is paid. My husband is 72 and receives $6,000 annually from Social Security. I will turn 70 in a few months and will begin taking Social Security and tapping my IRAs. I have very little debt. What is the safest thing to do with this inheritance?

Answer: That depends on how you define “safe.”

Investments that don’t put your principal at risk typically offer returns that don’t beat inflation over time. That means your buying power is eroded. At 70, you may not think you need to worry much about inflation. But your life expectancy as a woman in the U.S. is 16.57 more years. About one-third of women your age will make it to age 90.

That doesn’t mean you have to take investment risk with this money by buying stocks, which are the one asset class that consistently outpaces inflation. But you’d be smart to have a fee-only financial planner take a look at your situation to make sure you’re investing appropriately, based on your goals.

And it’s your goal for this money that will help determine how to invest it. If you want the money to be readily available and safe from investment risk, then you could put it in an FDIC-insured, high-yield savings account paying 2% or so. Just make sure you don’t exceed FDIC limits, which typically cap insurance coverage at $250,000 per depositor, per bank. (You can stretch that coverage if you put the money in different “ownership categories,” such as individual, joint, retirement and trust accounts.) If you don’t expect to need the money for many years, investing at least some of it in bonds or stocks may be appropriate.

Also, a small reality check: Your net worth before the inheritance was $265,000, based on the figures you provided. That’s more than most people in your age bracket. Households headed by people ages 65 to 74 had a median net worth of about $224,000 in 2016, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances. That’s not to say you’re rich, but you do have more than most of your peers — especially now.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to make living in a new place a reality. Also in the news: How one couple paid off $300k of debt in three years, what workers can learn from retirees’ regrets, and the average FICO score hits an all-time high.

Dreaming of Living in a New Place? Here’s How to Make It a Reality
One step at a time.

How I Ditched Debt: Small Wins Help Achieve a Big Dream
How one couple paid off over $300K in three years.

What Workers Can Learn From Retirees’ Regrets: Save More Now
The sooner, the better.

Average FICO score hits all-time high
The nation’s average score is now 706.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Taking a “micro trip” before the holidays. Also in the news: Money summits for couples, the best and worst US cities for retirement, and the top 10 most regrettable mistakes retirees made in the 20s.

Need a Break Before the Holiday Break? Consider a ‘Micro Trip’
A little relaxation before the holiday rush.

Start With a Money Summit to Hit Your #couplegoals
A meeting of the minds.

Here are the best and worst US cities for retirement
Did yours make the list?

Top 10 Most Regrettable Mistakes Retirees Made In Their 20s
Learning from others.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why your credit score isn’t the only gage of financial health. Also in the news: Car buying tips from an undercover salesman, 8 things that won’t hurt your credit, and how to control what could take a big bite out of your retirement nest egg.

Your Credit Score Isn’t the Only Gauge of Financial Health
The numbers you need to pay attention to.

5 Car-Buying Tips From My Days as an Undercover Salesman
How to navigate the car buying process.

8 Things That Won’t Hurt (Whew!) Your Credit
Starting with checking your credit score.

Here’s what could take a big bite out of your retirement nest egg — and how you can control it
Pacing yourself for the long haul.

Q&A: Strategies for overcoming a spouse’s bad investment decisions

Dear Liz: I tell people we lost a huge chunk of money in the Great Recession, but it wasn’t the downturn that did us in. My husband made some incredibly poor choices. I’m embarrassed to admit that he absolutely refused to listen to me and stop the financial self-destruction until I grew a backbone. I told him I’d divorce him unless he stopped. He has mended his ways and we’re still together (which is really for the best; we’ve been married almost 47 years).

He’s now being very transparent and prudent about investing, but we’re still looking at an underfunded retirement and I’d like to maximize what we have. We’re both 71 and still working (we’re self employed). Our home is worth about $800,000 and we owe $160,000. We have a rental nearby with about $100,000 in equity that pays for itself, but there’s no extra income from it. We have $210,000 in investments and $25,000 in savings with no debt.

I think more real estate would be a good investment vehicle for us, but we’d have to cash out some of our limited portfolio in order to purchase more. So instead, I make an extra principal payment equal to half the regular mortgage payment on each of the properties each month. I’m not sure if that’s the wisest thing to do, but I figure it’s still investing in real estate and will help us when we finally retire, sell and downsize.

Answer: Right now, the vast majority of your wealth is tied up in two properties in the same geographic area. A financial planner would want you to diversify, not double down by putting even more money into real estate.

And a fee-only financial planner is what you need to help you map out your future while easing the investment reins out of your husband’s hands. As we get older, we’re more vulnerable to fraud, exploitation and just plain bad choices. Your husband may have been scared straight for now, but he easily could make future decisions that could again imperil your finances. That’s especially true if his prior behavior was related to a gambling addiction. Not all problem gamblers choose casinos or horse tracks; some are day traders.

Given all that, you may want to consider purchasing a single premium immediate annuity when you retire. These annuities offer a guaranteed stream of income for life, in exchange for a lump sum. This would be income that can’t be lost to stock market downturns, real estate recessions, bad investments or fraud.

That’s something to discuss with your planner, along with ways you can use your businesses to maximize your retirement savings. (The self employed have many options, including a basic Simplified Employee Pension or SEP, solo 401(k) plans and traditional defined benefit pension plans.)

You can get referrals to fee-only planners at the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the XY Planning Network, the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners and the Garrett Planning Network.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to buy (and skip) in September. Also in the news: Why streaming services are the new credit card rewards binge, hard-won tips from borrowers who got student loan forgiveness, and why podcasts can actually push people to start saving for retirement.

What to Buy (and Skip) in September
September is the month of big sales.

Why Streaming Services Are the New Credit Card Rewards Binge
Millennial-friendly reward categories.

Hard-Won Tips From Borrowers Who Got Student Loan Forgiveness
You’ll need lots of patience.

Why podcasts can actually push people to start saving for retirement
Catch up on your retirement planning while driving to work.

What millennials get wrong about Social Security

Few issues unite millennials like the future of Social Security. Overwhelmingly, they’re convinced it doesn’t have one.

A recent Transamerica survey found that 80% of millennials, defined in the survey as people born between 1979 and 2000, worry that Social Security won’t be around when they need it. That’s not surprising — for years, they’ve heard that Social Security is about to “run out of money.”

The language doesn’t match the reality. In my latest for the Associated Press, why the myths surrounding Social Security could cause problems for millennials and their retirement.

Q&A: Keeping pace with retirement saving

Dear Liz: My wife is distressed by your recent column about how many multiples of salary are needed to retire. She interpreted the column as saying you must have the sum total of those numbers. So if you need one times your salary saved at 30, three times by 40, six times at 50 and eight times at 60, she thinks you would need 18 times your salary in total by age 60, or $1.8 million if you earn $100,000. I interpreted it to mean that your target would be $800,000 at age 60. Am I wrong?

Answer: You are interpreting the guidelines correctly: You would need eight times your salary at 60, not 18 times. The numbers, by the way, come from Fidelity Investments and are meant as general guidelines for people hoping to retire at 67 (at which point, Fidelity says they should have 10 times their salaries saved). Your needs may vary; some people will need less, some will need more. People who have large traditional defined benefit pensions, for example, may not need to save as much, while those who want to retire early or indulge in expensive hobbies, such as traveling or supporting adult children, may need to save more.

Guidelines tend to be the most helpful when you’re many years away from retirement and only guessing about how much money you’ll need. Once you’re five to 10 years from your desired retirement age, you should have a better handle on your likely expenses and sources of income. Well before you actually retire, though, you should consider consulting with a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner for a second opinion on your retirement plans. (“Fee only” means the advisor is compensated only by fees paid by clients, rather than through commissions or other arrangements. “Fiduciary” means the advisor is required to put your interests first.)

The National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the XY Planning Network and the Garrett Planning Network all represent fee-only planners and can offer referrals.