Managing your finances, saving for special big-ticket items, and planning for retirement are examples of things that can feel overwhelming at times. Here are six often overlooked financial moves to consider.
Social Security’s New Website Can Help You Plan for Retirement
Social Security is widely hailed as one of the best and most efficient of all government social programs. The Social Security Administration has redesigned its benefits statement to make it easier to understand your benefits – now and in the future. If you are thinking about retiring, it’s easy to see how much you can collect each month, whether you decide to start collecting at age 62, at Full Retirement Age (which is 66 to 67 years old depending upon the year you were born), or if you wait until age 70 to claim the maximum benefit. The redesigned SSA.gov site also includes a bar graph showing your estimated benefits at each possible age you can start collecting. Even if you are many years away from collecting, the agency advises that you visit the site, confirm the accuracy of your work and earning history, and take immediate steps to correct any mistakes. Younger workers are also urged to create an account to stop hackers from hijacking your information.
Retrieve Old Tax Returns
A much less favored federal agency is the IRS, but it too can provide some valuable information. Did you know that you can get tax return transcripts for the last four years? For $43, you get the tax return as you filed it, along with any forms or schedules, but not any amended filings. You can order your tax return online, by mail (Form 4506 or Form 4506-T), or over the phone (800-908-9946). You can also request a tax account transcript that does show adjustments filed. You might need these documents to apply for a new mortgage or get financial aid for college. The IRS website also notes that you might need a copy of a fraudulent tax return if someone else used your name and social security number to file the return without your permission. In this scenario, use Form 4506-F, Request for Copy of Fraudulent Tax Return. Requests for electronic documents happen immediately, but the IRS has already signaled that it’s running way behind on processing tax returns and refunds, so it might take a while to handle your snail-mail or phone requests for a printed version.
Lower Bank Fees Offer Some Relief
Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other leading banks have cut or even eliminated the hated overdraft fees that occur when you bounce a check. Instead of turning down the payment, the bank charges you a fee, usually around $35 per transaction. And you can get hit with several of those fees on a single day. Let’s say you’ve timed payment for your mortgage/rent, utilities, and credit card for the day you expect your paycheck to clear, but for some reason, the deposit has not gone through on time. That’s three fees for a total of $105. Capital One is dropping its overdraft fee altogether, while Bank of America is dropping its fee to $10 from $35. PNC is rolling out a service that gives its customers a 24-hour grace period before imposing a fee. A recent poll by Morning Consult found that 18 percent of consumers with a bank account were hit with an overdraft fee last December, and nearly half of them are millennials. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the banking industry collected $15.5 billion in fees in 2019. It’s not that these banks are going soft. Instead, they face stiff competition from free online financial service companies, and they fear a possible crackdown by federal regulators.
Take Advantage of Free Books
Free books are popping up all over the internet. You can have access to some of the best libraries across the country right from the comfort of home. All you need to do is sign up for a free “library card” or, in some cases, register your email address. You may need to download an app or open a PDF file. Here is a list of some of the best sites to visit:
Project Gutenberg focuses on older works for which the U.S. copyright has expired. It has 60,000 books available to download.
Open Library has millions of digital books available. It’s an open-source collection with a stated goal of “creating a web page for every book ever published.”
International Children’s Library offers historical and contemporary books in 59 languages. It aims to “promote tolerance and respect for diverse cultures.” It is affiliated with the University of Maryland.
Hoopla allows you to borrow movies, music, comics, and TV shows, as well as audiobooks and eBooks.
Just like your local library, most of these services require that you return the book after a specific period (usually done automatically), and many of them allow you to reserve a book to access later.
Reclaim Lost 401(k) Accounts
During your career, you’ve probably switched jobs several times. In fact, the typical Baby Boomer has held more than a dozen different jobs. It’s not surprising then that many people have lost track of a 401(k) account or two along the way. A report last year from Capitalize estimates there are 24.3 million accounts that job switchers have left behind, and those “lost” accounts have a combined value of $1.35 trillion. That’s trillion, with a T! That means you might have abandoned tens of thousands of dollars in employer-sponsored retirement savings. But this money is not necessarily lost, and you can reclaim it fairly easily.
The first step is to contact your former employer’s Human Resources department and ask: “do you still have any accounts in my name?” If the company no longer exists, you can contact the account administrator (such as Fidelity, Vanguard, or Schwab) or check the Department of Labor’s Form 5500 to help find the administrator.
Other options are to contact the state’s Treasury Department, where your former employer was headquartered. Most states maintain unclaimed property databases. You can also check the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.
If you locate a lost account, you can roll it over into your current employer’s 401(k) plan or an IRA.
Review Your Free Credit Reports
You’ve heard us say this time and time again – check your credit reports regularly! If you haven’t done so within the past six months, there’s an extra incentive to act now.
Historically, the three big credit agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – have offered one free credit report every 12 months. Due to the COVID pandemic, they are now offering free weekly access to credit reports until April 20, 2022. Checking your report frequently helps protect you against fraud and increases the likelihood of spotting an error. Since your credit score helps determine if you are considered worthy of a car loan, an apartment rental, or even a job, you’ll want to correct mistakes quickly. Contact both the credit agency and the creditor of the account to ensure correction. Some experts recommend going old school and using a snail mail letter to set the record straight. It’s also worth noting that the FICO system changed in 2020. Read how the change in the FICO system affects your credit score.