What should I do with an extra $40K?

Joe emailed: I am 29, single, male, working in the energy field. I have [no] student debt. I own my home. I have two rental properties: Property 1 (Worth $65K, 0 Debt, Rent = $500), Property 2 (Worth $125K, owe $57K @ 6% for 18 more years, RENT = $1,000 - I’m making $1,500 payments). I bought a new car in 2012 and paid cash. No other debt outside of insurance/property taxes. I currently have $40K in cash and a fully funded employer 401k and my own Roth IRA. My job is tough and I’d like to not have to do it forever. So here’s my question: What do I do now? I’ve been throwing a little money around at individual stocks and have done well, but get nervous with the market. Any suggestions on what I should do to get the most out of my cash on hand?  I’ve been saving to pay off rental 2 and will hopefully be able to after tax time 2015.

You’re obviously averse to having debt, which is understandable and good. So start with paying down that rental property mortgage with the 6% interest rate. It would be one thing if your mortgage debt was accruing at 3% — then it would make more sense to invest your money in the market given a 7% or so return, says Brett Horowitz, CFP and principal at Evensky & Katz / Foldes Financial Wealth Management in Miami. 

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What’s better as a college savings plan: 529 or UGMA?

Samantha emailed: I keep hearing about a 529 plan for college, but I was also told about a uniform gift to minor option. Our son is 2 months old so I want to get started but what are the pros and cons of each option?

We agree, the choices are confusing, but we commend you for starting (really) early. Here are the basic pros and cons to each type of account: the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA), custodial accounts set up by an adult on behalf of a minor; and the 529 plan, a college savings account that’s exempt from federal taxes. This isn’t an exhaustive comparison, so you should investigate further to see which is best for you and your family.

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Can I use 401(k) money to contribute to my grandsons’ 529 plans?

Walter emailed: In 2012 and 2013 when I was age 67 and 68, I withdrew $40,000 each year from my 401(k) and made contributions to my four grandsons’ 529 Education Account. Does this withdrawal count as a Required Minimum Distribution?

First, required minimum distributions from your 401(k) need to be taken after age 70 ½ (so you’ve got a few more years before you have to start withdrawing). But yes, you can use that money to make 529 plan contributions. If you don’t need that 401(k) money, contributing to the college savings account is a good way to make a gift and reduce the size of your estate. As an individual, you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary each year without incurring a gift tax or needing to report the gift on a tax return; married couples can contribute a total of $28,000 per beneficiary.

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What’s better: 3 credit card account balances with 0% interest or one with 17% interest?

Lorene emailed: I opened several credit card accounts as soon as I was able to after a bankruptcy. I am not using all of them. Some of them have sent me info on 0% balance transfers. I have one account that has about $3500 on it. Is it better for my credit score to have three small balances at 0% interest or for me to have one large account balance at 17%? The 0% cards all have low credit limits so I can’t put it all on one 0% card.

It’s not good for your score to spread your balances across three credit cards. Credit scoring models penalize you for having multiple accounts with balances, so obviously it would be best to move the balances to one card, says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com

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Do I have to cosign a student loan for my daughter?

Joan emailed: Is there a financial institution that will give my 19-year-old daughter a student loan without me cosigning?

It’s good you’re thinking about your options; many parents who end up cosigning on their children’s student loans end up being on the hook for the loan if your child can’t repay. Any student that completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, automatically qualifies for a federal student loan – no credit check, no income verification, and no cosigner required. The issue with the federal program is the lending limits – how much you can borrow per year and overall. The maximum amount depends on your grade level and on whether you’re a dependent student. Dependent undergraduate students, for example, can borrow up to $5,500 for freshman year, $6,500 for sophomore year, and $7,500 for junior and senior years.

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My daughter is a science teacher. Can she get her student loans forgiven?

Nicola emailed: My daughter has large student loans due to a masters degree. She was making 6-figures but was not happy in the coal industry.  She chose to return to school for a year to qualify as a high school science teacher. This is her third year teaching chemistry, physics and general science at a very rural school in southern Ohio. Is there some way to get some of her student loan debt forgiven?

There are a few government programs that offer student loan forgiveness for teachers, and each requires teaching in an elementary or secondary school with low-income students. (Eligible schools are listed here.) Borrowers can receive up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness if they were full-time teachers for five consecutive academic years in an eligible school – so she’s got another couple years to go before she can be eligible. 

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Will I have to take distributions from my Roth 401(k) when I hit 70 ½?

Joe asked: I have a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k) at work. Will I need to take RMD at age 70 1/2 for the Roth 401(k)?

Yes, you do. Unlike Roth IRAs, which have no required minimum distributions during the account owner’s lifetime, Roth 401(k)s are subject to RMDs, starting with the year you reach 70 ½. These distributions aren’t as burdensome tax-wise as the RMDs for traditional 401(k)s because the required distribution wouldn’t be taxable. What you lose is the ability to keep compounding that RMD portion of the account tax-free, says Eleanor Blayney, a CFP and consumer advocate for the CFP Board. There is an exception to the rule, however: If you continue to work past the age of 70 1/2 for the employer that’s sponsoring your plan, you don’t have to start taking RMDs until you actually retire.

I was the cosigner for my son’s student loans? What happens if he can’t repay?

'Frustrated' emailed: I co-signed on my son's student loans for a private university in Texas. He now has student loan debt in excess of $150,000. The loans are primarily through Texas Higher Education, with around $40,000 in private loans through Wells Fargo.  My question: What is my responsibility as a co-signer and how does it affect me financially if my son is not able to pay these loans? I am receiving demand letters and phone calls from the lenders. When I ask my son about the loans and payment of the loans, he is very defensive and shuts me down.  

It’s common for parents to cosign their child’s private student loan for college (federal student loans don’t require a co-signer). After all, cosigning a loan can help get a lower interest rate, but there are risks that come with co-signing that parents – and their kids – often don’t fully understand. A cosigner is a co-borrower, and is ultimately equally obligated to repay the debt if the student borrower cannot. 

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Do I still have to withdraw from my 401(k) if I work past age 70 ½?

Robin emailed: [One of your articles said] that 401(k) distributions are required when one reaches 70 ½.  But what if one continues working full time after that? I have read that one does not have to take any distributions, if working full time, until 75. But what if I continue to work and don’t want to take distributions until I stop working, maybe at age 80. What does tax law say?

There is a “still working” exception to the required minimum distribution rule for 401(k) plans. So if you’re still at your job past age 70 ½, you can delay taking distributions from your employer-sponsored retirement plan until April 1 of the year after you actually retire. (Note that this does not apply to IRAs.) You can do this unless your specific plan requires earlier, age-based distributions or you own 5% or more of the company that runs the plan.

Can someone getting a government pension still file for Social Security?

Elizabeth emailed: I plan to retire at age 66 which will be in Oct. 2015. Can I file for my benefits coming up Oct. 2014 and suspend it, so my husband can collect his spouse’s benefit? For your information, my husband is collecting pension with the University of California retirement system and he had not paid any Social Security when he was working.

First off, you must be at full retirement age – 66 – to employ the file and suspend strategy, so you won’t be able to do it this year. Second, your husband’s government pension would reduce any spousal benefit he could get based on your Social Security record. According to the Social Security Administration, if you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, that’s called a Government Pension Offset, and it will reduce your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefit by two-thirds of the amount of the pension. (More information here.)

What’s the best Social Security filing strategy for spouses with similar records?


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Steve emailed: My wife and I both have been working for 40+ years. I’m 63 and my wife is 62.  Currently we would both qualify for our maximum payout. So really no person is the “bread winner.” What strategy should we do to get the most benefit from Social Security?

Because your earnings records are similar, you can take advantage of both sides of the filing strategies. Your wife could file for her benefits now at age 62 and receive benefits for the longest possible period, although the amount would be reduced from the “normal” amount available at full retirement age (66), says Jim Blankenship, CFP and founder of Blankenship Financial Planning

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Can non-citizens get Social Security based on their spouse’s record?

Rebecca emailed: My question is whether my mother be eligible to collect my father’s Social Security and what percentage. My mother is British by nationality but has had permanent residence status since she got married to my dad in 1962. They were married until my father passed away about 7 years ago. She is currently collecting an annuity my father set up through his government job. My mom was told she is not eligible for my dad’s Social Security because she is not a citizen.

Citizenship has no bearing on eligibility for Social Security benefits based on a spouse’s record, says Jim Blankenship of Blankenship Financial Planning. As long as the other criteria are met (including length of marriage, age of the non-citizen spouse, Social Security status of the citizen spouse), the non-citizen spouse (i.e., your mother) may be eligible for benefits based on your father’s citizen record.

It’s Monday, folks… and we’ve got answers to your burning Social Security questions! (Check out our Facebook chat from Aug. 20 to see more questions and answers.)

Here are a few to start us off…

David emailed: I am 64 and will turn 65 in November. My wife is 70 and has been drawing Social Security since 66. Can I get the spousal benefit now or do I wait until full retirement age of 66? I will not be working after I reach 65, but would rather not collect at that time, and would like to hold off until at least 66 if not later. What is my best strategy?

You can collect the spousal benefit alone when you reach age 66. This allows you to get a benefit equal to half of your wife’s benefit (because she started at age 66), and then later you could switch to your own benefit as late as age 70 if the amount would be larger by that time, says Jim Blankenship, CFP and founder of Blankenship Financial Planning. Delaying allows your benefit to increase with Delayed Retirement Credits of 8% a year of delay, up to 32%, he says.

Will my boyfriend’s bad credit hurt mine if I add him to my account?

Diana asks: My boyfriend has terrible credit and has been trying to build it back up. I’m doing OK and am considering adding him to my credit card as a joint user. We live together but so far we’ve kept all of our finances separate. Will this help him improve his credit score, or will it just hurt mine instead?

If you’re sure that you and your boyfriend are ready to take that step, then adding him to your credit card account will definitely give his credit a boost. There are two different ways to go about it, both of which carry their own risks.

Add him as a joint account holder: As a joint account holder, your boyfriend will be held equally liable for whatever balance is on the account. If you both manage the card responsibly, both your scores will benefit. If he screws up, however, you could both see your scores drop. Note: you can only add a joint account holder when you take out a new line of credit because you both have to be on the application.

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Can I get Medicare if I’m under 65?

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Patrice emailed: [I] read something stating if you draw Social Security at 62, Medicare benefits can be applied for early. Is that true?

There are three ways you’d be eligible for Medicare coverage if you’re under 65: (1) You have a disability and you’ve been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for at least 24 months. Your Medicare eligibility would begin when you get your 25th SSDI check. Or you get a disability pension from the Railroad Retirement Board; (2) You have Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which makes you automatically qualified for Medicare; and (3) You have End-Stage Renal Disease requiring regular dialysis or a kidney transplant — and you or your spouse has paid Social Security taxes for a certain length of time, depending on your age.

You can use the calculator on Medicare.gov to find out if you’re eligible, or call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.