0 comments on “Love and Student Loans: 4 Tips to Make it Work”

Love and Student Loans: 4 Tips to Make it Work

So you’ve found your perfect match. He’s funny, kind and hard-working. You love doing the same things, especially together. But after finishing grad school, he has a mountain of student loan debt. Is he still the one?

These days 17 percent of student borrowers have more than $50,000 in debt. That debt load comes with repercussions. The payments will crowd out the other uses for your money, and the financial strain could lead to relationship strain.

Using a standard ten year repayment plan, monthly payments will be over $500 per month on a balance of $50,000. That is a big bite out of anyone’s salary. However, most who have that level of debt choose an extended repayment plan to lower the payments. Using a 25 year repayment schedule, the payment will decline to $331 per month.

In ten years, 65 percent of the loan will still be outstanding, and by the time the loan is fully repaid you will have paid interest equal to the amount of the loan. So for a $50,000 loan, $50,000 in interest will also be paid.

Generally those with graduate degrees have higher paying jobs, making it easier to handle the burden of the payment. But it’s not always the case. Now more and more, undergraduates are leaving school with high debt balances without the higher professional salaries.

The payments and the length of time they hang around will make reaching your other goals more challenging. The loan payments will reduce the amount you can afford to spend on housing, daycare, vacations and more. They will make it more difficult to save for retirement and college for your own kids. You will need to have a larger emergency fund to cover the debt payments, and it could be harder to qualify for a mortgage.

It’s no wonder that a significant number said they wouldn’t marry someone until their debt was paid off. If your partner-to-be has significant debt, you need to go into the marriage with your eyes wide open. Here are a few tips to make sure your relationship can handle the extra burden.

  1. Openly discuss the debt.
  2. Understand that as a couple you will be paying off the loan together. If your partner has to give up something to pay off the debt, you’ll be giving it up too. For example, if he puts less into retirement savings, you’ll both have less to retire on.
  3. Agree on how you will adjust your lifestyle to fit in paying off the debt and meeting your other financial goals.
  4. Pay down the debt as quickly as you can. Avoid repayment plans that allow you to pay less than the interest owed even if you qualify for them. If you pay less than the interest owed, your loan balance will grow every month. You are essentially borrowing more with every payment.

Debt can put a strain on any relationship. If you are diving into a new one with debt hanging over your heads, know what you are in for. Don’t believe the debt is your partner’s problem. It’s yours too if you go forward. But if you work together, you can still accomplish your financial goals.

0 comments on “When to Take Social Security”

When to Take Social Security

My husband, Jeff, recently turned 60. It’s an interesting age. It’s as if you’ve crested some hill, and can now see retirement laid out before you. Jeff has been retired for five years, but his friends who are still working are starting to think seriously about what’s next. Conversations on the topic inevitably turn to Social Security claiming strategies.

Should I take it early, at age 62, is the usual question. A few have done some math to arrive at a dubious conclusion. If you assume you live to a certain age, say 80, you will get the same amount, in total, from Social Security whether you claim it at 62 or the normal retirement age of 67, despite the larger benefit. If you wait until you are 70, you’ll actually get less money. Here is an example of the calculation.

SS Claim Strat

The first problem is you’re not likely to die at age 80. In the absence of some known health issue, at the age of 62, men can expect to live to be 84, and women can expect to live to be 87, according to the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator. That change alone makes a significant difference in the total benefit you can expect to receive, and claiming at 62 no longer makes sense, if your goal is to maximize your life time total benefits.

SS at Life

If you live to be 80, it turns out you are likely to live to be 89 if you are a man and 90 if you are a woman. At those ages, the difference in life time benefits between claiming early and claiming at the full retirement age grows to $52,000 and $58,000 respectively.

But all of these calculations miss an important purpose of Social Security. It is a guaranteed income that supplements your retirement savings. If you wait to claim Social Security until your full retirement age, or later, the larger benefit will allow you to take less from your savings, and therefore your savings will last longer. Since you really don’t know how long you will live, you need your savings to last as long as possible.

Say that you have $1 million saved for retirement and you need $60,000 per year to maintain your current lifestyle. Also assume your savings will earn 5.0 percent per year. If you claim Social Security at age 62, your savings will only last until you are 92, whereas if you wait until age 67 to retire and claim Social Security, the higher benefit means you are not likely to run out of money ever.

If you consider that things may not work out as planned, that extra buffer is even more important. About two thirds of people over the age of 65 are expected to need long term care sometime in their life, according to a paper by the Society of Actuaries. Long term care will sap your savings quickly. The higher social security benefit you receive at the full retirement age will leave you with more savings to deal with these higher expenses.

A higher benefit will also provide you a buffer against the vagaries of the market. Your savings won’t earn 5.0 percent every year. Some years it will earn more and some less. The larger your Social Security benefit the better you will be able to maintain your lifestyle in the event returns aren’t as high as expected.

Maximizing your lifetime Social Security benefit shouldn’t be your primary goal. Making sure you have enough money to last your lifetime should be. You are more likely to realize the latter goal if you wait to take Social Security until your benefit is higher.




0 comments on “Don’t Gloss Over the Cost of College”

Don’t Gloss Over the Cost of College

If you have a high school junior at home, you may have spent the week of spring break touring a few college campuses. It’s the perfect time to kick off the college selection process with your prospective college student.

You want the world to be your child’s oyster, and no one wants to talk about expenses when dreaming about the future. However, as you reflect upon the tours, it is a good time to bring a dose of reality into the equation.

College is expensive no matter where your child chooses to go, but some choices will set you back farther than others. The following chart shows the average cost of college for the 2017-2018 school year from the College Board.

Average Cost of College

While most parents want to send there children to college, only about 57 percent of them save for it. The average household savings for college was only $16,380, according to Sallie Mae. That means the money must come from somewhere else. The following chart shows how America pays for college, also from Sallie Mae.

How America Pays for College

A full 28 percent of the cost of college will be paid for with loans. The average student loan debt per borrower from the class of 2016 was $27,975. At the current Federal Direct student loan interest rate of 4.45% for undergraduates, over the standard 10 year repayment period, payments on loans of that amount will be about $289 per month.

That can be a significant piece of a new graduate’s entry level job income. It’s no wonder that 30 percent of college graduates with student debt move back in with their parents. With money like this on the line, it is important to sit down with your future college student and cover the facts.

Here are five things to discuss with your child before she chooses a school.

  • Tell your student how much you will be able to pay. This includes what you have saved and what you are willing to commit to out of your income. The converse of this is how much should she expect to pay. Only 70 percent of parents of teenagers have discussed their expectations with their child.
  • Outline options for raising the extra money. In addition to student loans and scholarships, your student may be able to raise some money through part-time or full-time work. Taking a gap year to work and save up for school is a reasonable approach.
  • Help your student understand the implications of their choices. Student loans may be hard to avoid, but they can certainly be minimized if you understand your trade-offs. You can calculate the monthly payments given different loan amounts on the Federal Student Aid web site.
  • Provide context for the information. Estimate the kind of monthly salary your student might earn given her career interests. Payscale’s College Salary Report is a good place to start. It wouldn’t hurt to also talk about average living expenses. Career Trends has a cost of living calculator. Don’t forget to show the impact of taxes. How much of her take home pay will be left after student loan payments?
  • Consider starting school at a community college. The average cost per year at public two year colleges is only $3,570 assuming your student can stay at home while she attends.

If you don’t have enough saved to pay for college, think carefully about the impact of paying for school out of your current income. If you are behind in saving for your own retirement, paying for college should not be your top priority. Your child has time to recover from the expenses of school. You do not.

A college education can substantially improve your child’s ability to earn a living. But taking on a lot of debt to pay for it can weaken her financial stability. Help her understand that her choices have implications for her lifestyle after school. Before she makes her final decision, she should know what she’s in for.


2 comments on “Your Credit Score Demystified”

Your Credit Score Demystified

Credit scores are an important number. They will determine whether you can get a loan and how much interest you will pay. They can also determine whether you can rent an apartment, and it is becoming more common for employers to check your credit score before they hire you.

Unfortunately, the credit score carries a lot of mystery and mythology for many. So, in this post, you’ll learn all you need to know about them.

The credit score was invented in the 1950s by the Fair Isaac Corporation. It didn’t catch on initially as a tool, but in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed, which standardized data collection and reporting. The FICO score (from the Fair Isaac Corp initials) gradually gained prominence as a tool for assessing credit worthiness from there.

Your credit score has five factors, each weighted according to their importance in determining whether you are likely to repay your loan. The following table summarizes the factors, weights and what they mean.credit scores

The biggest factor in determining your credit score is your payment history. So the most important thing you can do to raise your credit score is to make your payments on time. The second biggest factor is how much debt you have outstanding, and the next easiest way to improve your score is to pay down your debt.

Opening and closing accounts can have an impact on your score by shortening the average length of time your accounts have been open, but it will be minor compared to whether your payment history is strong and your balance is manageable.

A friend, who tries to maximize her travel rewards to minimize the cost of travel, opens credit card accounts for the bonus miles and then cancels them once she has what she’s after. She continues to have a stellar credit score, because she always pays on time and never carries a balance. If you have paid off a credit card balance, don’t hesitate to close the account if you no longer use the card.

Checking your credit score has no impact on it. While credit checks to establish new accounts can influence your score under the new credit factor, simply getting a credit report or viewing your score on-line does not change your score.

Regularly reviewing your credit report is an important defense against fraudulent activity in your name. I recently found a credit card account I had not opened on my credit report. Through a little correspondence with the credit agency and the lender I was able to get the account shut down. Debt established in your name is payable by you unless you actively work to close down accounts you didn’t open.

You can actually live without a credit score. If you are committed to living debt free, a credit score is not necessary. Even if you want to get a mortgage, but have no other debt, you don’t need to open some credit card or buy your next sofa on credit to establish a credit history. The things you do all the time will be enough.

If you pay your rent, utilities, cell phone and other bills, on time, and you have a down payment, you have what you need to get a mortgage. However, without a credit score, you may need to work with a smaller mortgage lender and allow more time. The larger lenders like the efficiency of seeing your character summarized in a single number.

Credit unions, independent mortgage brokers, on-line lenders and smaller banks may all be willing to provide the customer service needed to assess your credit worthiness without a credit score.  You can get pre-approved before you go house hunting and still be ready to jump on the perfect place when you see it.

You won’t be negatively impacted by having no credit score with other credit checkers. Having no credit score means you have no debt, which is a profound statement these days. Your future landlords will be happy to review your history with prior landlords. Employers looking to judge your character by your credit score will get the information they need by its absence. Certainly no score is much better than a bad one.

Your credit score is an important number, and the best ways to keep it strong are to pay your bills on time and pay down your debt. If you can accomplish that, the other factors play a minor role. You can live without a credit score, so don’t take on debt simply to establish one.

0 comments on “The New Withholding Calculator is Here!”

The New Withholding Calculator is Here!

The 2018 Tax Reform bill will have a significant impact on families’ income taxes for 2018. The bill went into affect as of January 1st, and employers received guidance on how much to deduct from employee pay in February. The guidance was designed to line up the new tax rates with the prior withholding tables, so employees didn’t need to file a new form W-4 with their employer.

But you still may want to review your payroll deductions to make sure you are not having too much or too little withheld from your pay.  I’ve been waiting to do this post until the IRS withholding calculator was available, and now it is!

According to the IRS, the average tax refund, before tax reform, was over $3,000. That is a lot of money that could be going to build your emergency fund, your retirement savings or to reduce debt if you weren’t paying it to the government. Now, with lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction, your current deductions might exacerbate the over withholding, or in some cases leave you under withheld.

The new tax law increases the standard deduction for everyone, but eliminates the personal exemption. So for many, you will have a lower taxable income due to the increase in the standard deduction, but if you have more than one kid, the loss of the personal exemption will increase your taxable income, unless you have more than the standard deduction in itemizable expenses. The following table provides a comparison.

Standard Deductions

In addition to the changes in the standard deduction, one of the most common itemizable expenses has been capped. The maximum deduction for state and local taxes is now $10,000. That is high for most people, but if you live in an expensive area, it could raise your taxable income.

Several other common deductions are no longer allowed.

  • Casualty and theft losses (unless due to a federally declared disaster)
  • Unreimbursed employee expenses
  • Tax preparation expenses
  • Alimony payments
  • Moving expenses
  • Employer subsidized parking and transportation reimbursement

The deduction for charitable giving is still available, and the amount you can deduct has been increased from 50 percent of your income to 60 percent. The medical expense deduction is also still available, and the deductible amount is now anything over 7.5 percent of your income, down from 10 percent. The mortgage interest deduction is still allowed as well.

Aside from the changes in the tax laws, you should review your withholding regularly anyway. Things change, and it’s important to have the right taxes taken out of your pay. Not too little and not too much. Too little and you’ll have a tax bill that you didn’t plan at the end of the year, and too much will cost you the opportunity of doing other things with your money.

The IRS withholding calculator will walk you through all the things that should be considered when determining how much taxes to have withheld from your pay. It will estimate the taxes you will owe for the year and the taxes that will be withheld if you don’t make any changes. Then it will recommend the correct allowances to enter on a new Form W-4. To get started, have your most recent pay stub and your 2017 tax return available.

If you have your information handy, the calculator only takes a few minutes to complete. Take a moment and make sure you’re having the right taxes taken out of your pay. If you are like most people, you’re likely having too much taken out and could have more money to put toward your goals if you change your allowances. On the other hand, you can avoid a nasty surprise if the tax law changes worked against you.

Image courtesy of manopphimsit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


0 comments on “America Saves Week 2018”

America Saves Week 2018

It is America Saves Week once again. During this week, each year, the Consumer Federation of America encourages people to save for their financial security by pledging to save money, reduce debt and build wealth over time. It’s a great opportunity for you to put your action plan in place.

What action plan you say? If you’re struggling with where to start, here are a few ideas.

  • Pick one thing to work on. Maybe you’ll decide this is the week you sign up for your 401(k) through work or increase your contributions. Or maybe you’ll commit to paying down that credit card debt or begin working on an emergency fund. Any of these are good.
  • Put it on your calendar. Whatever action you decide to take, put it on your calendar. If you are working on your 401(k), put a visit to the web site or your human resources department on the calendar. Or put “open a new savings account” for your emergency fund on there. Studies have shown that people are more likely to do something if they commit to it in writing.
  • Decide on an amount. Decide on a realistic savings goal. You want your savings to grow, or your debt to shrink, but you also want your savings to stay saved. Your savings goal needs to be realistic. Don’t worry if it’s small to start with. Even small amounts help and you can increase your savings over time.
  • Decide what behavior you will change. For some, just taking the money off the table through an automatic savings plan is all that is needed for your savings to grow. For others, you may need to figure out how to free up some money so you can save it. How will your behavior change to make the money available? Whatever you decide make it something you can stick with.

Saving money is the only path to financial security, and far too many people don’t save enough. America Saves Week is as good a reason as any to get started, and the Consumer Federation of America will give you a little incentive to do it.

This year, if you formalize your pledge by entering it on the America Saves web site, you will be eligible for a raffle to win $500 toward your savings goal. You can boost your prize by another $250 if you share your goals and story on social media.

When you sign up you will also receive information, advice, tips and reminders by email or text message to help you be successful in meeting your goal. The web site has great tools and resources, including checklists, videos, calculators and more that are free for you to use even if you don’t enter the drawing.

So, go forth this week and save. The future you will thank you.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1 comment on “Four Things Retirement Savings and Going to the Olympics Have in Common”

Four Things Retirement Savings and Going to the Olympics Have in Common

I love the Olympics. Amazing people from all over the world converge to do amazing things. Things that most of us haven’t even dreamed of. But those athletes did. And that is the main reason they are in Pyeongchang.

Their dreams were so important that they set aside hours a day to train. They gave up everyday comforts. In an interview, Adam Rippon, from the men’s figure skating team, talked about living on apples he snuck from the gym, because he didn’t have enough money for groceries. Yet their dreams were so important the sacrifice was worth it.

You may not have your eyes on an Olympic medal, but some of your goals can be just as daunting. Having the financial security to one day leave your job and not worry about money is likely one of them. That goal requires many of the same disciplines as an Olympic dream.

First you must define your goal. Olympic athletes don’t get to there by wanting to be Olympians. They get there by wanting to be the best at short track speed skating, or half pipe snowboarding or cross country skiing. You must define your retirement goal in terms of how you want to live when you stop working for pay.

That can be a tall order. Who knows how you’ll want to live decades in the future. Some may have a vision of it, but if you don’t, how you live today may be a good starting place. From that you can get an estimate of how much money you need to fund your lifestyle. Fortunately there are many free resources on-line to help you do the math. The following are a few you can try.

Bankrate Retirement Calculator

Nerdwallet Retirement Calculator

CalcXML Retirement Calculator

Next you need a strategy. Athletes have training and diet regimens. Similarly, you need to decide what you will do so you can save for the future. Where is the money for savings going to come from?

For some, simply taking the money out of the picture, through an automated savings program like your company retirement savings plan, is all that’s needed. Others may have to figure out how to free up some money first so it can be saved. Creating a spending plan, otherwise known as a budget, will help you sort out what you value and what you don’t in your current spending. Goals have a way of shining a light on your trade offs.

Then you need to practice and monitor your progress. Olympic athletes only get where they are through practicing their skills. They enter competitions to see how they are progressing toward their goals. They compare their performance to other athletes in the same field to learn what they need to improve to be better than them.

You also need to practice and measure your progress. Decisions you make every day will help you stay on your spending plan. Checking your actual spending relative to your plan and regularly reviewing your balance against shorter term savings goals will allow you to make adjustments so you can improve your progress.

You don’t have to do it alone. Olympic athletes usually have a family that supports their dreams and a good coach. Get help with achieving your goal. Make sure your family is on board with saving for your future, and enlist the help of a financial planner if you are not making the progress you want. To find a Certified Financial Planner in your area search letsmakeaplan.org.

Big goals are daunting. Your future financial security is no less of an endeavor than pursuing an Olympic medal, and the path to success is the same. You have to know what you want, develop a strategy for achieving it, practice your skills, monitor your progress and get help when you need it. It takes a long time, so the earlier you begin the better off you are. Decide today to begin pursuing your own dream.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net