What the experts say
Want lower bills? Just ask
Your monthly bills aren’t necessarily set in stone, said Geoff Williams in USNews.com. Simply calling up service providers, like your cable company or credit card issuer, to ask for a lower rate is sometimes all it takes to score substantial savings. Experts suggest starting with open-ended questions, such as “Where can you save me money?” or “What discounts are you offering right now that I can take advantage of?” Also, customer service reps are more likely to spend time haggling if you call earlier in the day, and more likely agree to a better deal right before lunchtime or closing. Not a great negotiator? Services like Shrinkabill.com and BillFixers.com will make calls for you in exchange for a share of the savings. Shrinkabill.com, for example, will keep 45 percent of your savings for the first year.
Divorce and your 401(k)
“Divorce among couples near retirement age has its own custody complications: how to divvy up the retirement accounts,” said Jessica Dickler in CNBC.com. The divorce rate among adults over age 50 doubled between 1990 and 2014, and in Baby Boomer splits, only alimony is fought over more than retirement accounts and pensions. Retirement savings acquired during a marriage are generally divided 50-50, experts say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an even dollar amount should go to each person, especially if the parties are in different tax brackets. Instead, “retirement accounts should be divided on their after-tax value.” For example, if a couple is dividing a $200,000 401(k) or IRA, one spouse might take $110,000 and the other $90,000, depending on their incomes, “to ensure that they each receive an equivalent after-tax value.”
Catching up your HSA
Just as with an IRA or 401(k), you can make catch-up contributions to a health savings account, said Kimberly Lankford in Kiplinger.com. HSAs, which are available to people enrolled in high-deductible health insurance policies, allow you to set aside money tax-free to pay for medical expenses for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. Unlike funds in flexible spending accounts, HSA money can accumulate year to year. You can make catchup contributions of up to $1,000 starting the year you turn 55. That’s in addition to this year’s $3,350 limit for people with self-only coverage, or the $6,750 limit for family coverage. Spouses, however, can’t both make catchup contributions to the same account.
Charity of the week
A $1 donation in the checkout line at your local grocery store can go a long way toward making a difference. Founded in 1985 with the idea that small purchases can have big impacts, making change (makingchange.org) enables food industry retailers and other businesses to fundraise for charitable causes in their communities through “point-of-purchase” programs. By adding a little extra when paying a grocery bill, consumers can partner with retailers in helping causes that fight hunger, advance breast cancer research, and provide support to veterans, among many other issues. The organization currently operates in 1,250 food retail stores nationwide and has helped raise more than $96 million for causes in the U.S. and abroad.
Each charity we feature has earned a four-star overall rating from Charity Navigator, which rates not-for-profit organizations on the strength of their finances, their governance practices, and the transparency of their operations. Four stars is the group’s highest rating.