Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Time your credit card application this bonus-friendly season. Also in the news: Debt and housing costs are making it harder to save for retirement, a 2019 holiday shopping report, and how to spend your extra FSA money.

Time Your Credit Card Application This Bonus-Friendly Season
‘Tis the season for bonuses.

Debt, Housing Costs Make It Harder to Save for Retirement, Americans Say
An uncertain future.

2019 Holiday Shopping Report
Will a looming recession curb holiday shopping?

How to Spend Your Extra FSA Money
Don’t leave money on the table.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to navigate the Yahoo data breach settlement. Also in the news: Identity theft and babies, getting grandparents on board with using reward credit cards, and a more realistic way to look at health care costs in retirement.

How to Navigate the Yahoo Data Breach Settlement
Here we go again.

Has Your Newborn’s Identity Already Been Stolen?
A rise in synthetic identity theft has put babies at risk.

Getting Grandparents on Board With Using Rewards Credit Cards
More trips to visit the grandkids.

Here’s a more realistic way to look at health care costs in retirement
Considering the factors.

Q&A: Should you pay off student loans or save for retirement? Both, and here’s why

Dear Liz: What are your recommendations for a recent dental school graduate, now practicing in California, who has about $250,000 of dental school loans to pay off but who also knows the importance of starting to save for retirement?

Answer: If you’re the graduate, congratulations. Your debt load is obviously significant, but so is your earning potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for dentists nationwide is more than $150,000 a year. The range in California is typically $154,712 to $202,602, according to Salary.com.

Ideally, you wouldn’t have borrowed more in total than you expected to earn your first year on the job. That would have made it possible to pay off the debt within 10 years without stinting on other goals. A more realistic plan now is to repay your loans over 20 years or so. That will lower your monthly payment to a more manageable level, although it will increase the total interest you pay. If you can’t afford to make the payments right now on a 20-year plan, investigate income-based repayment plans, such as Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), for your federal student loans.

Like other graduates, you’d be wise to start saving for retirement now rather than waiting until your debt is gone. The longer you wait to start, the harder it is to catch up, and you’ll have missed all the tax breaks, company matches and tax-deferred compounding you could have earned.

Also be sure to buy long-term disability insurance, even though it may be expensive. Losing your livelihood would be catastrophic, since you would still owe the education debt, which typically can’t be erased in bankruptcy.

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.