Feature

What the experts say

Housing: Staying afloat; Cash for your gadgets; Keeping college savings safe

Housing: Staying afloat
If you owe more on your mortgage than your house is worth, you’re not alone, said Karen Blumenthal in The Wall Street Journal. As many as one in six home­owners are now “underwater” on their mortgages—either because they bought during the bubble, put little or nothing down, or pulled out too much home equity. The situation is worrisome, but if you can afford to keep making your mortgage payments, you should be able to ride it out. “If you truly can’t afford your payments, contact your mortgage servicer to see if you can rework your interest rate or work out new payment options.” If your lender won’t budge, contact a counselor at Hope Now (Hopenow.com) for help navigating the process. Need to sell? You may be able to negotiate a “short sale” whereby you sell the house for market value and ask your lender to eat the loss.

Cash for your gadgets
Those old cell phones and laptops you’ve relegated to junk drawers and storage boxes may actually be worth something, said Kelli B. Grant in SmartMoney. A “bevy” of new websites, such as Buymytronics.com and Myboneyard.com, will pay money for your outdated gadgets. So will retailer programs from the likes of Costco and RadioShack, for that matter. In most cases, you can simply go to the website and answer a few questions about the item. The company will send you prepaid shipping forms, verify the condition of the device, and then send payment or gift cards for use at the store. Sites vary in terms of which electronics they accept and how they make payments, so compare estimates from a few technology scrap yards before settling on one.

Keeping college savings safe
The bear market has taken a big bite out of college savings for some parents of teenage kids, said Sandra Block in USA Today. Thanks to age-based portfolios that shift funds into ultra-conservative investments when college is close, parents of older teens may have been spared from the bear market’s wrath. But parents of young teens “are in a much more tenuous situation.” Their age-based funds most likely still hold a fair share of stocks that may not recover before college tuition is due. Should you be in this predicament, don’t stop contributing to the plan. Do scrutinize it, however, to see precisely how the money is invested. “You can’t change the investment mix in your 529 plan more than once a calendar year.” But you can direct future contributions to investments that suit your risk tolerance.

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