Welcome to #AskBedel, a weekly personal-wealth Q&A where you can ask financial planning and investment experts for advice. Each week we’ll be answering your personal finance questions, so be sure to submit your questions to Bedel@BedelFinancial.com, or click on Submit a Question below.
- 1. I planned to purchase medical insurance off the Marketplace, but I have been hearing about insurance options from religious groups. Which is better? Will I still get the same amount of coverage?
- 2. My family member recently passed away and I inherited their estate. Will I owe taxes on my inheritance?
- 3. I recently inherited a large sum of money and I have been thinking about buying a rental property. What are some of the things I need to consider?
- 4. Many of my friends have cancelled their cable or satellite television subscriptions. Does it make sense financially to “cut the cord?”
- 5. I have heard about peer-to-peer lending. Is that a smart way to invest money?
- 6. Which takes the priority on savings, my IRA or my HSA?
- 7. When should I use my debit card and when should I use my credit card?
- 8. We saved to a 529 plan for our child, but they just earned a scholarship. What can we do with the 529 funds now?
- 9. During the divorce, can my husband take a portion, or all, of my IRA?
- 10. Can my child open or fund his or her own HSA?
- 11. What are some things I need to keep in mind when considering socially responsible investing?
- 12. How do I know when it makes sense to refinance my mortgage?
- 13. My wife is a teacher and has a 403b annuity. Should we pay the surrender charges and move her money into an IRA?
- 14. My adult son has a disability and I care for him full time. Since I claim him on my taxes, and he receives SSI, will he get the $1200 stimulus payment?
- 15. I earn too much to qualify for the $1,200 stimulus payment, but will I still get a $500 payment for my dependents?
- 16. Our son’s college is refunding partial room and board payments due to closure. Since we paid for this out of our 529, are we allowed to keep the money, or does it need to go back into his 529 account?
- 17. My child’s daycare has been closed for the coronavirus pandemic. How does this effect my contributions to my dependent care FSA? Can I withdraw from it for something else?
- 18. My parents are in their 80s and I worry about them falling victim to a scam or fraud. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?
- 19. My 401(k) offers a Roth option. Should I contribute to it?
- 20. Aside from lower gas prices, what is the best way I can take advantage of lower oil prices as an investor?
- 21. My son’s college is offering an Income Share Agreement (ISA) to help pay for a portion of his tuition. Should we take advantage of this type of loan?
- 22. Should I list my children [ages 8 & 6] as beneficiaries to my retirement accounts?
- 23. We just adopted a dog. Do we need pet insurance?
- 24. We just learned that my mother might need to be placed in a nursing home. What do I need to do to prepare for this? Am I financially responsible for her care?
- 25. What is a Roth Conversion?
- 26. What is a wash sale?
- 27. What is the difference between term life and whole life insurance?
- 28. As I approach my 40th birthday, what’s the most important thing I need to consider when it comes to retirement planning?
- 29. My son is 18 and starting college in the fall. Is it smart to add him to my credit card as an authorized user to improve his credit?
- 30. Life Insurance: Should I buy life insurance for my child?
- 31. Can I use my Roth contributions for a down payment on a house?
- 32. I am in the middle of refinancing my home. Should I roll the closing costs into the loan balance?
- 33. Are the municipal bonds in my portfolio still considered a safe investment?
- 34. Is there any downside to buying physical stock of precious metals?
- 35. Instead of working with an investment advisor, my son wants to do day trading on apps like Robinhood. What are the downsides to using these kinds of platforms?
1. I planned to purchase medical insurance off the Marketplace, but I have been hearing about insurance options from religious groups. Which is better? Will I still get the same amount of coverage?
Some organizations have formed non-profit groups for the sole purpose of sharing medical expenses. Member’s healthcare expenses are pooled and shared among everyone. If the group has relatively low health expenses, everyone benefits. Premiums are generally lower than typical healthcare insurance premiums. However, they function very differently than a traditional insurance company. One of the biggest differences is that they may not pay all of your claims. Factors such as lifestyle or preexisting conditions determine if costs are eligible to be covered. In many states, they are not held to the same regulations that insurance companies must abide by which means if you aren’t happy, there isn’t much the state can do to help you. Many hospitals and healthcare agencies don’t recognize medical cost sharing as insurance. This could impact your ability to be treated. Purchasing insurance is about transferring risk from yourself to the insurance company. You want to ensure that your insurance coverage will be there to support you when you need it.
2. My family member recently passed away and I inherited their estate. Will I owe taxes on my inheritance?
It’s very unlikely, but it depends. There are three possible taxes involved. The first is estate tax, which is levied at the federal level. If the value of your family member’s estate is under the lifetime exclusion ($11.4M in 2019) then you’re in the clear. If their estate is above the exclusion amount, your inheritance may be reduced by the amount of estate tax owed; however, the tax won’t be paid out of your pocket.
The second possible tax is charged at the state-level. There are six states that still charge inheritance taxes on the person receiving the inheritance. Check the rules for the state in which your family member lived and owned property.
Lastly, some assets have capital gain tax or ordinary income tax implications. For example, if you inherit shares of a stock you will owe capital gain tax if you sell the stocks at a gain. If you inherit an IRA you will owe ordinary income tax on the Required Minimum Distributions and other withdrawals.
Taxes can get confusing. Consult with a tax professional if you’re still not sure whether you will owe Uncle Sam.
3. I recently inherited a large sum of money and I have been thinking about buying a rental property. What are some of the things I need to consider?
The amount of the inheritance can, and should, impact your decision when considering the acquisition of a rental property. However, before making any purchase, make sure you consider your entire financial picture. Revolving debts or liabilities that carry high-interest rates should be paid off prior to any purchase/investment. From there, make sure your emergency fund is sufficiently funded to cover 3-6 months’ worth of expenses. Once those items are taken care of, you can then begin to evaluate the possibility of purchasing a rental property.
As with any investment, you need to exercise due diligence when acquiring property. Rental properties can provide a steady stream of passive income and a slew of deductible expenses. They can complement and provide your existing portfolio with a level of diversification. Upon the sale of the property, it stands to reason you will benefit from the property’s growth in value over the duration in which you own the property. Also, if you find another property with potentially stronger growth prospects, the IRS allows a 1031 exchange, which enables you to sell a property and invest in another like property without paying capital gains taxes.
Conversely, there are also drawbacks to contemplate. If liquidity is a concern, a rental may not be a wise decision as it can take time to sell a property. Opportunity costs should also be considered. Do you feel the return on the property can sufficiently outperform other investment options? What is your desire to be a landlord? Rental homes often have maintenance issues that can occur at any moment. Are you handy enough to handle repairs yourself, or will you need to bring in your local handyman for upkeep? Lastly, pay attention to local taxes and insurance premiums. While you may initially establish what you feel is a desirable rent structure based on the mortgage of the property (if you don’t pay for it in cash), rising taxes and insurance can erode your profit margin faster than you can increase rent.
When making a decision such as this, it’s best to work with your financial advisor and a local real estate agent. Your financial advisor can help you understand the impacts of such a purchase and offer possible alternatives while your agent can help you navigate the area in which you intend to buy. Though rental properties can be a lot of work, they can also provide for a nice return on your investment, so do your homework before jumping in!
4. Many of my friends have cancelled their cable or satellite television subscriptions. Does it make sense financially to “cut the cord?”
Cancelling cable or satellite TV subscriptions and transitioning to streaming services has gained popularity within the last decade. According to the Leichtman Research Group, the largest pay-TV providers in the U.S. lost 1,740,000 subscribers in Q3 2019 alone! 74% of U.S. households now pay for a subscription video on-Demand service, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.
The average American pays $102 per month or $1,224 per year for cable television subscriptions (the cost of internet service is not included in this average). Does it make financial sense to “cut the cord” and substitute cable or satellite in favor of streaming services only?
The short answer – it depends. There are more streaming services popping up due to the popularity of services like Netflix and the cost of streaming services has risen in the last few years. If your TV entertainment needs can be fulfilled by a limited number of streaming services, you would likely benefit from cutting the cord. If you have a difficult time limiting your streaming service choices, you may not see as much as a cost difference. Let’s look at an example:
Average Monthly Cost of Cable Television: $102/month
Consumer #1 (3 Streaming Services)
Netflix (Basic): $9
HBO Now: $15
Consumer #2 (6 Streaming Services)
Netflix (Premium): $16
HBO Now: $15
YouTube TV: $50
Amazon Prime Video: $9
Disney +: $7
If you are thinking about cutting the cord, do your research! Determine what you currently pay for cable or satellite services and compare to the cost of the streaming services you are interested in. If you do not require a ton of different streaming service memberships, you will likely see a decrease in your overall monthly TV expenses! If the opposite is true, cutting the cord may prove to be a “wash” and not worth the time and effort of making the switch.
5. I have heard about peer-to-peer lending. Is that a smart way to invest money?
Peer-to-peer lending is the process of investing your money with a firm that then loans that money out to approved borrowers. In essence, you act as the bank in the transaction and collect any principle and interest payments from the borrower. Numerous companies online offer these services. Some have been around for more than a decade while others are relatively new. A company may specialize in certain lending areas such as small business loans, student debt refinancing, or personal loans, while others may offer a wide assortment of lending. As an investor, these loans may be appealing if you like the idea of investing in people and small businesses. If you are looking to make an investment here are a few things to consider:
- What is the track record of the firm loaning the money? They should have substantial information on their website regarding their past loans. They should also state what their expected default rate would be on loans.
- How risky do you want to be? Many firms will allow you to choose which type of borrower you want to loan your money. The riskier the loan the more return potential.
- Can you spread out your investment over many loans? You need to diversify your investment so that one borrow doesn’t wipe out your investment if they default. Some programs may allow you to invest as little as $25 in a single loan, which allows you to spread out the risk.
- What are the total fees charged to participate in their lending program? The higher the fees charged, the lower your potential return.
- Does this line up with your overall investment strategy?
As with any investment, there are risks in peer-to-peer lending. The biggest risk when loaning money is not getting your money back. Understanding how the company evaluates and approves it loans is an important step before you make a decision.
6. Which takes the priority on savings, my IRA or my HSA?
Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are both great tax-efficient accounts to take advantage of if you qualify to contribute. With a Traditional IRA you can make pre-tax contributions, specifically earmarked for retirement, of up to $6,000 if you are under age 50 and $7,000 over age 50 in 2020. Over time, the investments inside of the account grow tax-free. Once you reach age 59 ½, you can take distributions from the account penalty-free, but they are subject to the income tax.
HSA’s are designed to help pay for medical expenses but are more tax-advantageous because of their triple tax benefits.
- First, contributions can be made pre-tax, meaning the income you contribute does not count towards your taxable income. In 2020, the maximum contribution is $3,550 for individuals and $7,100 for a family. Those over age 55 can contribute an additional $1,000.
- Second, many HSAs permit contributions to be invested. Just like an IRA, these investments grow tax-free, allowing for compounding growth.
- Third, for qualified medical expenses, distributions from the account are entirely tax-free. In addition, when you reach age 65, your HSA acts like an IRA. This means you can take distributions from the account for non-medical expenses without penalty—you will only have to pay taxes on the distribution.
Since both accounts offer different tax benefits, you should work with a financial advisor to determine the way to utilize each.
7. When should I use my debit card and when should I use my credit card?
When it’s time to checkout you may be faced with the decision: debit or credit? Credit and debit cards each have their place and there are certainly situations when one is better than the other.
Opt for your credit card when making online purchase because they typically offer greater protection against fraudulent activities. Credit is also preferable when traveling abroad because credit cards typically often have fewer foreign transaction fees. Reach for your debit card if you’re operating on a tight budget. The spending limit is your checking account balance, unlike the credit limit on a credit card. If you’re in need of cash, your best bet is using your debit card at a free ATM since nearly all credit cards charge a much higher rate for cash withdrawals, even up to 24%!
8. We saved to a 529 plan for our child, but they just earned a scholarship. What can we do with the 529 funds now?
Scholarships typically only cover tuition, so there may still be qualified expenses for which you can use the 529 funds, such as room and board or books. If there will still be 529 funds remaining after those expenses, you have three choices:
- Leave the money in place in the event your child decides to continue his/her education beyond undergraduate studies.
- Change the account beneficiary to another child, grandchild, or even yourself for future qualifying educational expenses.
- Pull money from the 529 account. An amount equal to the scholarship award may be withdrawn without penalty. However, the earnings portion of that amount will be taxed as ordinary income.
If you wish to withdraw money over and above the amount of the scholarship, the earnings portion of the non-qualified excess amount will be subject to taxes, including the 10% penalty tax.
Read More: When College Planning Goes Awry
9. During the divorce, can my husband take a portion, or all, of my IRA?
If you had a prenup in place protecting the IRA, then the account is protected assuming the legal documents were drafted correctly. If not, then things can get a bit trickier.
Depending on the state in which you reside and when the assets were earned will dictate how the assets are treated. For example, in community property states, each spouse is entitled to one-half of the assets earned during the marriage. If the account existed prior to marriage, though contributions were subsequently made through out, the courts will calculate the marital portion and divide that figure in half. In the case of common-law states, the IRA owner is the sole owner of the account and the account does not have to be divided equally. Though the splitting of the assets does not have to be equal, it does have to be ‘fair’.
Pay attention to the wording and the type of accounts listed in the divorce order. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse is receiving your Roth IRA versus a traditional IRA, then they likely have a greater benefit (assuming equal account values) due to tax rules governing these account types. Also, if the order states your spouse is entitled to, say, $50,000 (instead of half) of your IRA and the value of the account declines to $75,000, they are now receiving 2/3 of the account as opposed to half as was originally intended.
It’s always best to consult with an experienced attorney in the case of a divorce where investable assets are involved. You want to ensure that you receiving what you are entitled to as well as not foregoing any more than you should.
10. Can my child open or fund his or her own HSA?
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are growing in popularity for people with a high-deductible health insurance plan because of their tax efficiency. Contributions into an HSA are deductible and reduce taxable income and also have the option to be invested. Upon distribution, any growth the account earned is completely tax free, so long as the distribution is used to pay for a qualified medical expense.
However, the IRS has strict guidelines regarding who is eligible for an HSA, preclude minor children from opening an account of their own. To open an HSA, an individual must:
- Be covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP)
- Not be covered by any other type of health insurance
- Not enrolled in Medicare
- Not be claimed as a dependent on another individual’s tax return
However, the 2010 Affordable Care Act allows for adult children to remain on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26 years old. This means that even if your adult child is filing their own tax return, so long as they are covered by the parent’s health insurance, he or she is eligible to open an HSA and contribute the maximum allowed under a family plan ($7,100 in 2020) into their own account. If your adult child is financially unable to contribute the maximum amount, you are able to make the HSA contributions on their behalf. It is important to be aware, though, that even if your child is on your insurance plan, you are not able to use your own HSA funds to pay for their qualified medical expenses if they cannot be claimed as a dependent for tax purposes.
HSAs offer many important benefits when it comes to an individual’s health care expenses. However, every situation is different and it is best to speak with a tax professional first before making any decisions.
11. What are some things I need to keep in mind when considering socially responsible investing?
Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) has gained a lot of traction over the years for those who want to invest with the purpose of social and/or environmental betterment. SRI investing is done by actively eliminating investments based on specific ethical guidelines. Just like with any investment, there is research and due diligence that needs to be done before investing. Here are three things to keep in mind when considering SRI.
- What classifies as investment to be socially responsible can be vague because there is no universal guideline. For example, a mutual fund or ETF can consider themselves SRI by actively avoiding oil stocks alone. However, they could still be invested in other areas you may not find ethical—tobacco, gambling, weapons, etc. It is important to understand your reasoning behind choosing socially responsible investments and then doing your research.
- There is a perception that socially responsible investing will underperform the broader market. This is certainly not a universal truth. Some SRI investments will underperform, while others will outperform. It is important to research any investment before acting.
- SRI investing is very similar to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing and Impact Investing. In fact, sometimes you may even see the terms used interchangeably. While there are subtle differences, all three focus their investment selection process on including companies that will more closely align with an investors ethical or social values. An important distinction between these types of investments is how the portfolio is constructed. Some funds may begin with a particular universe of companies (like the S&P 500, for example) and then screen-out or eliminate companies that are involved in areas that some may find objectionable, such as tobacco, weapons manufacturing, or gambling. Other funds may be much more selective when deciding which companies to include in their portfolios and invest only in companies whose operations and business models fit within the fund’s strict ethical, social, or moral guidelines.
Socially Responsible Investing can help you invest in line with your ethical values. However, you need to first ask yourself what the purpose of your investment is and then complete your research.
12. How do I know when it makes sense to refinance my mortgage?Refinancing can be a great idea if the interest rate on your refinanced loan is at least one percent less than your current interest rate. All other things equal, the lower the interest rate means a lower monthly payment.
Another way to justify a mortgage refi is by looking at the break-even point. Similar to when you first took out a mortgage, there are closing costs associated with refinancing. To calculate your break-even point, divide your closing costs by the difference in your monthly mortgage payments under the refi. For example, if the closing costs are $2,000 and the monthly payment decreases by $100 per month, the break-even point is 20 months. If you plan on selling the home before the break-even point, then refinancing doesn’t make sense.
You should also consider the timing of the refi. You build equity in your home when you pay down the principal. However, during the first years of your mortgage, most of the monthly payment goes toward interest. Let’s say you’re 12 years into a 30 year loan when you decide to refinance into another 30 year loan. This means you’re going back to paying mostly interest, and once it’s all said and done you’ll have made 42 years worth of mortgage payments!
13. My wife is a teacher and has a 403b annuity. Should we pay the surrender charges and move her money into an IRA?
Before deciding to surrender an annuity and incurring a surrender charge, you will want to look at the total expenses of the annuity versus the expenses of the IRA. If the surrender charges can be made up within a 1-2 year period because of lower ongoing expenses in the IRA, then you might want to surrender. Also, while annuities will typically have lower quality investment options than an IRA, sometimes annuities will have investments with attractive guaranteed returns. As a result, the investment options available can have an impact on your decision to surrender.
14. My adult son has a disability and I care for him full time. Since I claim him on my taxes, and he receives SSI, will he get the $1200 stimulus payment?
In order to qualify for a stimulus check you must meet the following criteria: you cannot be a nonresident alien individual, you must have a Social Security number, and you cannot be claimed as a dependent by someone else. If you pass the three criteria, you are then subject to income phase outs based on your tax filing status. Therefore, as the law currently stands, adult children who are claimed as dependents will not receive a $1,200 check.
15. I earn too much to qualify for the $1,200 stimulus payment, but will I still get a $500 payment for my dependents?
It depends. The stimulus payments, or Recovery Rebates, are calculated on a household basis using phase outs based on your tax filing status. Benefits are reduced by $5 for every $100 above the adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds listed below.
For example, a married couple with no dependents and an AGI of $200,000 would be entirely phased out of their expected $2,400 rebate. On the flip side, a married couple with one qualifying dependent and the same AGI would end up with $400 out of their $2,900 expected rebate.
16. Our son’s college is refunding partial room and board payments due to closure. Since we paid for this out of our 529, are we allowed to keep the money, or does it need to go back into his 529 account?
You need to return the money to the 529 account. The IRS requires re-contribution of tuition or other qualified education expense refunds to the 529 account within 60 days. If not returned, refunds from colleges are non-qualified distributions. Taxes and a 10% penalty would be owed on the earnings portion of the reimbursed amount.
For example, let’s say you withdrew $10,000 from your child’s 529 account to cover tuition, room and board expenses for the spring 2020 semester ($8,000 of $10,000 is a principal withdrawal and $2,000 is an earnings withdrawal). $5,000 went towards tuition and $5,000 went towards room and board. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and campus dormitories closure, the university partially refunds room and board expenses for $4,000. You have 60 days to return the $4,000 refund to your child’s 529 account. If not recontributed, income taxes and a penalty would be owed on the $800 earnings portion of the $4,000 refunded amount.
If you need instructions for returning tuition or room and board refunds to your 529 account, contact your plan administrator directly for more details. There is likely some paperwork involved. Don’t forget to also keep good documentation of the refund in case of an IRS audit!
17. My child’s daycare has been closed for the coronavirus pandemic. How does this effect my contributions to my dependent care FSA? Can I withdraw from it for something else?
You may have the ability to reduce future contributions of your Dependent Care FSA if you meet your plan's definition of a qualifying life event. Typically, a change in provider is an acceptable qualifying event but be sure to clear this with your plan administrator.
Dependent Care FSAs cover a variety of eligible expenses determined by the IRS. For example, your day care may be closed but you can use the funds to pay a qualified babysitter during work hours using your Dependent Care FSA. You'll need to record the sitter's name, address, and Social Security Number for your tax records and your sitter will need to record the income on their tax return.
18. My parents are in their 80s and I worry about them falling victim to a scam or fraud. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?
Unfortunately, your parents belong to a vulnerable group whose age and money are constantly being exploited. While there isn’t much you can do to prevent the fraudsters from pursuing them, you can help your parents prepare their defense. Consider employing some of the strategies below:
- Educate your parents on examples of common fraud techniques including email scams, phone messages, and mailings.
- Teach them quick responses to unwanted solicitors such as “I never buy from someone who shows up unannounced. Send me something in writing.”
- Encourage your parents to let unknown calls go to voicemail. If the call is important, the caller will leave a message.
- Replace their landline with a cell phone, unlist their numbers from public directories, and/or sign up for opt-out and Do Not Call lists.
- Shred all unnecessary documents that contain account numbers, Social Security numbers, or Medicare numbers. This also includes empty medication containers, such as pill bottles from the pharmacy.
- Americans are entitled to one free credit report every twelve months from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Tell your parents to pull a report every four months to make sure nothing looks awry.
19. My 401(k) offers a Roth option. Should I contribute to it?
Deciding whether to contribute to a Roth 401(k) or Traditional 401(k) is always a tax question. First you must understand the difference: Traditional 401(k) money goes in tax-deferred and is taxed when withdrawn whereas Roth 401(k) money goes in after-tax and comes out tax-free in retirement. Consider going the traditional route if deferring your income drops you into a lower tax bracket or makes you eligible for certain tax benefits such as the Child Tax Credit. Otherwise, the Roth 401(k) is a great place to park your money. If you’re phased out of making Roth IRA contributions, consider directing money to your Roth 401(k) since there is no phase-out. Another reason to contribute to your Roth 401(k) is that once you leave the job you can roll the Roth money into a Roth IRA. Doing so will avoid required minimum distributions levied on 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs.
20. Aside from lower gas prices, what is the best way I can take advantage of lower oil prices as an investor?
Oil has been in the headlines recently, especially when prices collapsed and even went negative in late April. According to AAA, the average gasoline price has fallen from $2.85 to $1.89 over the past year. However, because of the widespread lockdowns due to the coronavirus most Americans have been unable to take advantage of these lower prices. This has caused many investors to ask themselves if there are other ways to benefit in the oil’s price decline.
One of the most popular ways to invest in oil is to purchase shares of the United States Oil Fund (USO), an ETF that tracks the price of West Texas Intermediate Sweet Crude Oil, the index that famously dropped to -$40 in April. Before jumping in and buying anything, however, it is important to understand the risks that are involved. The reasons for the large drop in oil prices are related to myriad factors, including an oil war between oil-producing countries Russia and Saudi Arabia, a sharp decline in global demand due to the economic shutdowns, as well as the complexities of how oil futures contracts work. All of these factors still persist, meaning the risks they posed last month still exist at least to some degree.
Trading in commodities can be a very volatile endeavor, and challenging even for experienced investors. An alternative to buying commodities is to invest in companies involved in the production and distribution of oil that have strong balance sheets and are less exposed to the day-to-day fluctuations of commodity futures contracts. As always, though, before making any investment it is best to speak with your financial advisor to determine if the investment is appropriate for your portfolio and fits with your long-term goals and investment strategy.
21. My son’s college is offering an Income Share Agreement (ISA) to help pay for a portion of his tuition. Should we take advantage of this type of loan?
Income Share Agreements are available for obtaining assistance for payment of college tuition. In essence, they’re not considered a loan, they are contractual agreements between the student and school (or other ISA provider) where the student receives funding for a portion of his/her education with the promise to repay the ISA provider through a fixed percentage of earned income after graduation.
The amount of funds received for tuition, the repayment percentage and the term of repayment are all outlined in the contract. The terms of the contract are based on the student’s major and projected compensation after graduation. Unlike student loans, ISAs are not credit-based.
The terms of an ISA contract should be reviewed carefully. ISAs can be a good alternative to student loans, however, it’s best to understand how they differ. When utilizing a student loan, you’ll repay the lending institution more than the amount borrowed through interest; however, you do have the option to pay the loan off early if you’re able and it makes sense. This is not the case with ISAs. Your repayment to the ISA provider will continue until the end of the contract term (varying from months to years, depending on your situation). It’s important to know that in the end, you could have paid quite a bit more through the Income Share Agreement than the amount you received for tuition assistance, and you can’t pay it off early. If your compensation after graduation is fairly low, however, you could end up paying less than the amount borrowed. (Note: The total amount a student repays the ISA provider is capped at 2.5 times the total loan amount.)
The required repayment will not commence until the student’s earnings exceed a threshold amount (minimum wage and sometimes higher). And, if the student isn’t employed for a period of time, the payments are paused.
Income Share Agreements can work well for some students given their personal situation and the terms set forth by the provider. I recommend that you thoroughly review the contract at hand to understand what the potential payment would look like for your son after he graduates.
22. Should I list my children [ages 8 & 6] as beneficiaries to my retirement accounts?
If your intent is for your retirement accounts to pass to your children…then absolutely! However, there are considerations to be given prior to completing your beneficiary forms.
If your children are listed as stand-alone beneficiaries and you were to pass, you want to ensure that you have named a custodian to oversee the account; otherwise, the courts will assign one for you which can be time-consuming and costly. The drawback is that, upon the attainment of age of majority [18 or 21 depending on the state], the custodian is dropped and the child now has full access to the account. They could liquidate the account in full and buy their dream sports car…and likely incur a large tax bill!
A way to control the flow of inherited assets would be through the establishment of a trust. The trust would then be named as the beneficiary to the IRA, and your children the beneficiary of the trust. The trust allows you to control when and how much can be distributed to your children as well as what the assets can be distributed for. If your intent is for a portion of their inheritance to pay for college expenses or a wedding, those provisions can be set forth in the trust document and carried out by the trustee.
23. We just adopted a dog. Do we need pet insurance?
Not particularly. Pet insurance is not a requirement for pet owners; however, it can be worthwhile under certain circumstances.
Pet insurance is similar to human health insurance plans. You pay premiums to maintain coverage. There are deductibles, co-pays, and policy limits on the amount an insurance company will pay on an annual basis. There are some limitations with pet insurance. Pure breeds or animals prone to hereditary health issues might be uninsurable; and pets with pre-existing conditions will have a difficult time qualifying for coverage.
If your new dog is not a pure breed or prone to hereditary health issues, and doesn’t have any pre-existing health conditions. Is pet insurance worthwhile?
Similar to other insurance coverage types, premiums paid can outweigh the actual benefits received. If you have a moderately healthy dog who doesn’t need much veterinary care, you’ll likely pay more in premiums than reimbursements received. However, pet insurance helps significantly with expensive treatment costs if your dog needs higher levels of veterinary care. Professional care for serious illnesses (think cancer) or injuries (ACL tears) can cost thousands of dollars. Pet insurance would certainly prove beneficial under these awful circumstances.
If you decide the risk of expensive vet bills is not one you are willing to take, consider the following when shopping for coverage:
- There are many different types of pet insurance coverage. Pet insurance will rarely cover every health issue your pet might encounter. Have a good understanding of what your policy covers and what it doesn’t before purchasing.
- There are many different pet insurance coverage providers. Make sure to shop coverage with multiple providers and compare premium costs.
- To avoid exclusions for pre-existing conditions, purchase coverage when your pet is young. Enrollment can begin at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
- Many pet insurance policy premiums increase each year your dog gets older. A policy that might look affordable now might not be so affordable a few years from now. Try to understand how much policy premiums might increase on an annual basis before purchasing.
24. We just learned that my mother might need to be placed in a nursing home. What do I need to do to prepare for this? Am I financially responsible for her care?
The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home can take an emotional toll on all parties involved. To adequately prepare for this transition, you’ll need to understand what level of care your mother will need to ensure she goes to a facility that can accommodate all of her future needs (medically and personally). Does your mother need independent or assisted living, a skilled nursing care facility, or would a continuous care retirement community (CCRC) be more appropriate? Then there is the cost component. This will come as no surprise, but nursing home stays can be quite costly. According to a 2019 study by Genworth, the average cost of a nursing home stay in the US is $275/day (for a semi-private room). With so much to consider, look at enlisting the services of an elderly law attorney.
Elderly law attorneys will be able to confirm all of your estate planning is in order as well as assist in the locating of the appropriate facility while helping manage expenses. You’ll want to tour each facility up for consideration and ensure you meet with the admissions director to address any specific questions and concerns you may have. You’ll also need to garner a comprehensive understanding of your mother’s financial picture (including income sources, assets, and any long-term care policies she may hold) to determine available resources for payment. If a stay in a hospital doesn’t precipitate the admittance into the nursing home, Medicare will not cover the cost of her stay. If assets are available, then your mother will be required to pay the daily costs of care. If resources are scarce, then Medicaid may pick up the costs. An elderly law attorney can assist in all of these capacities.
When considering the financial responsibility for your mother’s care, it’s extremely rare for children to be held liable or responsible for a parent’s nursing home bills. However, pay close attention to the language in admission agreements and, if you are required to co-sign, ensure that only your mother’s funds will be used to cover costs. Furthermore, filial laws (laws that impose financial responsibility on others) are still present in many states (including Indiana) though they aren’t enforced as frequently as they once were as Medicaid has taken the lead on providing reprieve to those without financial means.
25. What is a Roth Conversion?
A Roth conversion describes the shifting of assets from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. Any money held in a traditional IRA is eligible to be converted into a Roth. People generally do this to get money into a completely tax-free investment vehicle. Reducing the amount of money in your traditional IRA will also lower future required minimum distributions.
The catch is that any money converted to a Roth must be reported as taxable income on your tax return. The one exception is if you have any basis in your traditional IRA, i.e. any money that was added to the IRA on a non tax deductible basis. Any such basis is excluded from taxable income. If you convert part of an IRA, the basis is excluded on a pro-rata basis (no picking and choosing which dollars you convert!).
26. What is a wash sale?
A wash sale refers to an IRS regulation that can disallow the realization of tax losses when selling a security. Specifically, a loss may be disallowed if an investor sells a security at a loss and buys back a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of the sale (either before or after). The repurchase of a substantially identical security includes any purchases made by a spouse or purchases made in a retirement account like an IRA or Roth IRA.
If a wash sale occurs, the disallowed loss is added to the cost basis of the newly purchased security. You therefore do not lose the benefit forever, it is merely postponed.
Note that the wash sale rule only applies to losses. If you sell a security at a gain and buy it back the next day, you still have to report the gain on your tax return.
27. What is the difference between term life and whole life insurance?
Both term and whole life coverages share commonalities such as static premiums and guaranteed death payouts. However, each offers distinct differences that make them unique.
Term life insurance, as the name implies, offers coverage for a specified period such as 10, 20, or even 30 years and will pay out the stated proceeds (the face value) if the insured passes before the end of the term. If the covered party survives the policy duration, the policy will lapse, and coverage will cease. By comparison, term insurance is usually cheaper than that of a comparable whole life policy.
On the other hand, whole life policies are dually focused, offering insurance coverage for the life of the insured while providing a conservative savings component known as the policy's cash value. Over the policy's life, as premium payments persist, the cash value will continue to grow tax-deferred, enabling your beneficiaries to inherit additional benefits. Furthermore, the cash value can be borrowed against allowing the policy owner to access the funds. The unlimited duration of coverage coupled with the investment element comes at a cost, however, as these policies tend to be much higher in price than term coverage.
Life insurance can be complicated as there are many other options. It's always a best practice to work with a licensed insurance agent and your financial advisor to determine which product provides the best solution for you and your family's needs.
28. As I approach my 40th birthday, what’s the most important thing I need to consider when it comes to retirement planning?
As investors approach age 40, they have a tendency to become too conservative too soon with their retirement investments. When they still have 25 years before needing the money for living expenses, growth should often remain the primary focus for the investment portfolio. If they plan to live until age 90, they have 50 more years of needing this money to work for them, which is plenty of time to get more conservative.
As they approach their highest income earning years, tax efficiency becomes key. We recommend maximizing every possible retirement account to receive income tax deductions and tax-deferred investment growth.
29. My son is 18 and starting college in the fall. Is it smart to add him to my credit card as an authorized user to improve his credit?
Adding your son as an authorized user on your credit card is one way to give his credit score a boost and can help cultivate responsible money management behaviors. Of course, there are some important caveats to weigh before moving ahead with this approach.
First, consider your past credit history. If you have a good credit history, it will reflect positively on your son’s credit score. If you do not, this strategy will negatively influence his credit, having the opposite effect of what you are trying to accomplish.
The logistics of adding your son to your credit card are important to understand as well. An authorized user is not legally responsible for charges or balances; the primary account holder is. The user can make purchases and view transactions, but he/she will not be able to add other authorized users, close the account, or perform a balance transfer. Not all credit card companies report account history to credit bureaus on behalf of authorized users, so you will want to ensure yours does before adding your son as an authorized user.
If you move forward with this strategy, establish some ground rules! Is the card for emergencies only, and if so, what constitutes an emergency? If the card is for general spending, how much can he spend on a weekly or monthly basis? What are the consequences of misusing the card? How long will this arrangement be in place? Managing expectations upfront is key.
30. Life Insurance: Should I buy life insurance for my child?
It depends. Because you are not dependent on your child financially, it’s not necessary. However, some people prefer to buy a small policy to make sure they have funds for an adequate funeral and burial should their child pass prematurely and cash flow is tight. If you have concern that your child may be uninsurable as he/she gets older, buying a policy when your child is young may make sense. In this case, a permanent policy would be ideal, but premiums could get expensive as your child gets older. You should also ask your insurance agent about including a rider on the policy that would allow your child to purchase additional insurance without medical underwriting (guaranteed insurability). Using life insurance as a savings tool for college, wedding, or otherwise is not recommended as there are other savings vehicles that are less costly and more tax efficient for these needs. If you’re considering buying a policy on your child, talk with your financial advisor first to ensure that it’s the best resource for your personal situation.
31. Can I use my Roth contributions for a down payment on a house?
The short answer is yes because you can always withdraw the contributions you made to a Roth IRA at any time—penalty-free and tax-free—for any reason. You can also use earnings in the account if you meet the following criteria:
- You have to be a first-time homebuyer. If you’re buying a home with your spouse, they must also be a first time buyer.
- Your Roth IRA has been open for at least five years counting from January 1st of the year you made your first Roth IRA contribution.
- You must to use the funds within 120 days of receiving the distribution.
- You cannot use more than $10,000 worth of investment earnings.
Whether or not it is a good idea to use your Roth IRA to purchase a home is something you should discuss with your financial advisor. After all, this money is being saved for retirement.
32. I am in the middle of refinancing my home. Should I roll the closing costs into the loan balance?
With mortgage rates where they are right now, lots of people are refinancing their current mortgages to get a lower rate. But don’t move too quickly! The rate isn’t the only factor you want to consider when you refinance. Chances are that closing costs will apply to your loan so you’ll need to determine how you want to pay them. You can choose to roll them into the amount you are financing, but try to avoid that at all costs! Not only does it increase the amount you are financing, but some lenders may charge you additional fees for going that route. Ideally you would bring the necessary funds to closing so the amount you are financing only represents the loan on your home. If you don’t have enough cash to cover the closing costs, shop around. Closing costs can vary from lender to lender.
33. Are the municipal bonds in my portfolio still considered a safe investment?
In general, municipal bonds are considered to be one of the safer investments in a portfolio. However, they still carry risk and their level of safety is dependent upon different factors.
Duration Risk: Duration measures the price sensitivity to bond prices when market interest rates change. The longer, the bond, the greater the sensitivity to interest rates. If interest rates move up significantly, longer-term municipal bonds will lose value. This loss in value is recouped, assuming the bond is paid back in full upon maturity.
Credit Risk: The ability of the municipality to pay back its obligations determines the credit quality of the municipal bond. High quality municipal bonds have a strong ability to pay in full the interest payments and the principal upon maturity. Typically, municipal bonds are either backed by the general obligation of the issuer, such as the State of Indiana, or Marion County. Revenue bonds are backed by specific revenue streams, such as sewage facility backed bonds or toll road bonds. Because default rates are very low for municipal bonds, credit risk is not generally a big fear in the municipal bond market. However, as municipalities can face lower tax revenues and or higher obligations (such as pension liabilities), credit risk is still important.
Call Risk: Many municipal bonds have call features that allow the issuers to pay the bond in full or at a pre-determined price before the maturity date. This can cause a 20-year bond to behave like a 2-year bond, if the bond is callable in two years. Callable bonds will often pay a higher interest rate, known as a call premium.
Tax Risk: Municipal bond interest is exempt from federal income tax and can also be exempt from state income tax. Changes in tax laws can affect the attractiveness of municipal bonds.
34. Is there any downside to buying physical stock of precious metals?
There are several downsides to buying precious metals directly. The first is that you need a secure place to store the bars, coins, or other items. This could be a safe deposit box at a bank or a safe in your own home. A bank is generally the more secure option, but there is an ongoing cost, and your valuables are not insured like your bank accounts are. A safe in your own home has a one-time cost – the purchase and possibly installation of the safe itself. It is as secure as your home is, so it is potentially exposed to fire and other natural disasters or theft.
There are also costs associated with buying and selling precious metals. You will often pay commissions, both buying and selling your metals. These commissions are not always clearly stated, so be careful. Furthermore, some precious metals dealers may charge large mark-ups, especially on coins advertised as 'collectible' or 'numismatic' coins. This contrasts with buying 'bullion', which will typically be priced at a much smaller premium over the metal's current spot price.
While precious metals have historically been good stores of value, they are not terribly liquid investments. If you need to convert them to cash in a hurry, it could be problematic (and/or costly).
Finally, be aware that precious metals are considered collectibles for tax purposes, meaning they are taxed at a 28% rate (when held for over a year). Also, losses on collectibles first reduce capital gains, rather than counting against ordinary income, which is less efficient from a tax perspective.
35. Instead of working with an investment advisor, my son wants to do day trading on apps like Robinhood. What are the downsides to using these kinds of platforms?
Robinhood is designed with beginner stock traders in mind and doesn’t operate like traditional brokerage firms such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity, etc. who provide customer support, services for advisors and more robust research capabilities. In our view, Robinhood is a good place for individuals who want to dip a toe into stock trading as a hobby. If you want to save for an emergency fund, for example, Robinhood may not be your best option because you don’t want to trade stocks with money that you might need quickly. Your emergency fund is better suited for a bank savings account with a competitive interest rate. If you are saving for retirement, we recommend seeking the advice of a financial professional instead of doing it yourself via an online brokerage like Robinhood. If you start pouring significant money into stocks without a financial plan or understanding of risk, you can jeopardize your financial future. If you have a financial plan in place with a diversified investment strategy for the bulk of your portfolio and still have the itch to trade stocks with a small chunk of ‘fun money’ then by all means, go for it!
Prior to implementing any investment strategy referenced in this article, either directly or indirectly, please discuss with your investment advisor to determine its applicability. Any corresponding discussion with a Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc. associate pertaining to this article does not serve as personalized investment advice and should not be considered as such.
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