Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Alter your buying habits in 2020 and keep the change. Also in the news: When the gift of giving brings a tax on receiving, student loan forgiveness and taxes, and 7 alternatives to costly payday loans.

Alter Your Buying Habits in 2020, and Keep the Change
Cutting back on impulse buying.

When the Gift of Giving Brings a Tax on Receiving
Understanding the gift tax.

Should You Worry About a ‘Student Loan Forgiveness Tax Bomb’?
Forgiveness comes at a price.

7 Alternatives to Costly Payday Loans
Avoiding astronomical interest rates.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 8 million student loan borrowers must do this in 2020. Also in the news: 5 ways to get credit-healthy in the New Year, how to take charge of your credit this year, and where to file state and federal taxes for free.

8 Million Student Loan Borrowers Must Do This in 2020
Time to renew your income-driven repayment plan.

5 Ways to Get Credit-Healthy in the New Year
No better time to get started.

How to Take Charge of Your Credit This Year
How to make your credit shine.

Where to File State and Federal Taxes for Free
Filling begins January 27th.

Q&A: This retiree got a big surprise: taxes

Dear Liz: I’m 76 and retired. During the decades I worked, I contributed to my IRA yearly using my tax refund or having money deducted from my paycheck. No one told me I would have to pay taxes on this when I turned 70. For the past six years, I have been required to withdraw a certain percentage of this IRA money and pay taxes on it. Is there ever going to be an end to this? Do I have to keep paying taxes on the same money every year? And what about when I pass away, do my children have to keep paying?

Answer: Ever heard the expression, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?

You got tax deductions on the money you contributed to your IRA over the years, and the earnings were allowed to grow tax deferred. Those tax breaks are designed to encourage people to save, but eventually Uncle Sam wants his cut.

Also, you aren’t “paying taxes on the same money every year,” because the money you withdraw has never been taxed. Plus, you’re required to take out only a small portion of your IRA each year starting at 70½. The required minimum distribution starts at 3.65% and creeps up a bit every year, but even at age 100 it’s only 15.87% of the total. You can leave the bulk of your IRA alone so it can continue to grow and bequeath the balance to your children.

Your heirs won’t get the money tax free. They typically will be required to make withdrawals to empty the account within 10 years and pay income taxes on those withdrawals. Previously, they were allowed to spread required minimum distributions over their own lifetimes. Congress recently changed that to require faster payouts because the intent of IRA deductions was to encourage saving for retirement, not transfer large sums to heirs.

The Roth IRA is an exception to the above rules. There’s no tax deduction when you contribute the money, but the money can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement or left alone — there are no required minimum distributions. Your children would be required to start distributions, but wouldn’t owe taxes on those withdrawals.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 9 money resolutions (and tips) for 2020. Also in the news: How and when to ask for a credit card retention offer, the high-interest account you’ve never heard of, and how to avoid a tax audit in 2020.

9 Money Resolutions (and Tips) for 2020 From Our Experts
A chance for a new start.

How and When to Ask for a Credit Card Retention Offer
Making the banks keep you as a customer.

The High-Interest Account You’ve Never Heard Of
Learn about cash management accounts.

How to Avoid a Tax Audit in 2020
Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.

Q&A: This generous gift has no tax effects

Dear Liz: If I give $15,000 to my grandson, do I report it on my tax return? Is it deductible? Does my grandson report the gift on his tax return and does he owe tax on it? What if three sets of grandparents (parents and stepparents of his parents) do the same?

Answer: No, no, no, no and it doesn’t matter for tax purposes (although obviously your grandson should be delighted he has such generous grandparents).

Gifts to individuals aren’t tax deductible, but neither are they taxable to the recipient.

People can give a certain amount each year to as many recipients as they like without having to report the gifts via a gift tax return. In 2019 and 2020, the limit is $15,000. Each grandparent could give up to that amount to your grandson; he wouldn’t have to report the income on his tax returns, and it wouldn’t cause any of you to have to file gift tax returns.

There’s no limit to the number of people who can give $15,000 to your grandson this way.

You wouldn’t owe gift taxes until the amount you’d given away above the annual exemption limit exceeded $11.4 million.

Q&A: Working past 70

Dear Liz: If I continue to work after 70, will Social Security taxes still be deducted from my check? I understand my benefits will cap out at 70, so why would I need to still pay into the fund?

Answer: Because Social Security is insurance, not a bank account.

And it may not be true that your benefit maxes out at 70, if you continue to work. It’s true that delayed retirement credits no longer increase your benefit if you delay starting Social Security past age 70. But as long as you continue working, you’re potentially growing your benefit.

Your Social Security check is based on your 35 highest-earning years, adjusted for inflation. If you make more in a current year than you made in one of those previous highest-earning years, the current year will be substituted for the earlier one. That in turn can increase your benefit. This can happen at any age, including after you start benefits.

You might not see much increase, of course, or any increase at all if you’ve earned a high income for a long time. If you exceeded the maximum income limits subject to Social Security taxation every year for 35 years, your benefit wouldn’t increase with additional work. (In 2019, for example, the maximum income limit is $132,900; you don’t pay Social Security tax on earnings above that level, although you continue to pay Medicare tax.)

On the other hand, your benefits won’t be stopped once you collect as much from the system as you paid in. You will continue receiving benefits for as long as you live, even if that amount far exceeds what you’ve paid in taxes. That’s insurance worth paying for.

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.

Q&A: Don’t keep a mortgage just for the tax deduction

Dear Liz: Does the new tax law, with its increased standard deduction, change the calculus of maintaining my mortgage? I owe about $250,000 at 3.25% on a 30-year mortgage. I no longer itemize, so I don’t get the benefit of the tax deduction for the interest. My payments are about $1,500 a month, but I could easily pay it off.

Answer: It never made much sense to keep a mortgage just for the tax deduction. The tax savings offset only a portion of the interest you pay. (If you’re in a 33% combined state and federal tax bracket, for example, you’d get at most 33 cents back for every $1 in mortgage interest you paid.)

A more compelling reason to keep a mortgage would be if you were able to get a better return on your money by investing it, or if you didn’t want to have a big chunk of your wealth tied up in a single, illiquid asset.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Moving to escape taxes? Make sure it’s a clean break. Also in the news: 4 smart ways to split bills with friends while traveling abroad, 5 auto-buying tips from a former undercover car salesman, and 7 tips for becoming an ethical shopper.

Moving to Escape Taxes? Make Sure It’s a Clean Break
You could face a residency audit.

4 Smart Ways to Split Bills With Friends While Traveling Abroad
Thinking outside the app box.

5 auto-buying tips from a former undercover car salesman
Don’t get taken for a ride.

7 tips for becoming an ethical shopper
Finding companies that align with your values.

Moving to escape taxes? Make it a clean break

Breaking up can be hard to do if the other party doesn’t want to let you go. People who move out of high-tax states may learn this the hard way — through a residency audit.

States such as New York, California and Illinois use the audits to claim that your recent interstate move was just a tax dodge and that you still owe their state income taxes. Proving you’ve actually moved and plan to make the new place your permanent home — yes, the burden of proof is on you in a residency audit — often requires far more than flashing your new driver’s license or spending a certain number of days outside the old state. In my latest for the Associated Press, how to prepare for a residency audit.