Tax Planning Opportunities You Might Not Be Aware Of

Tax planning is not just an opportunity to reduce your tax bill; it is also an opportunity to build up your financial assets with creative strategies. Smart investment choices now can reduce your taxable income pre- and post-retirement, as well as set funds aside for when you’ll need them in the future.

Whether you’re focusing primarily on your taxes or you’re structuring your investment portfolio, by utilizing these often-overlooked tax-planning strategies and thinking outside the box, you can set both yourself and your family up for a prosperous financial future.

The Basics of a Roth Conversion

Roth conversions allow traditional IRA holders to transfer a portion of their IRA funds to their Roth IRA. A traditional IRA is beneficial because the contributions are tax-free; that is, contributors don’t have to pay taxes when they make the contribution, and the funds grow tax-free until they are withdrawn, at which point they’re taxed as ordinary income. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, have post-tax contributions but allow the funds to grow and be withdrawn tax-free.

As a general rule, most financial experts will recommend you invest in a traditional IRA when your tax bracket is currently higher than you expect it to be in retirement, and you should invest in a Roth IRA when your current tax bracket is low so you pay taxes at the most advantageous time.

If you have money in a traditional IRA, the IRS allows you to convert some or all of that money into a Roth. You pay taxes (but no penalties) on the income you “withdraw” and immediately recontribute it into a Roth IRA. There are several advantages to this, including:

  1. You may be temporarily in a lower tax bracket now than when you made the contributions to your traditional IRA. So, you can effectively convert it to a Roth at a discount.
  2. You can shift more funds into a more versatile account. With a Roth IRA conversion, you can withdraw your principal (but not earnings) at any time once they’ve been vested for five years, and you don’t have to take required minimum distributions in retirement.
  3. You might not otherwise have access to a Roth IRA. If you make more than $140,000 ($208,000 for households), then you’re not eligible to make Roth IRA contributions. But a conversion gives you access to this account type and its benefits.

However, one disadvantage of an IRA conversion is that it can increase your Medicare insurance premiums later. For example, we had a client who could gain a $2 million lifetime boost to his assets if he converted them from a traditional IRA to a Roth, but the switch would raise his Medicare premiums by $4,000 for the year around the time of the conversion. While you should be aware of these disadvantages, it’s important to weigh them against the total benefits. When you have completed your Roth conversion and your income has gone down to a lower amount the following calendar year, you can file a Form SSA-44 with the IRS and your annual premiums will be lower.

Another route to building up your Roth IRA is overfunding your 401(k). If you make post-tax contributions to your 401(k), you can add those funds to a Roth IRA after retirement in order to access the more versatile account benefits.

Start a 529 Plan

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged account for saving for future educational expenses. This can be for you, for a current dependent or any other identified recipient. Contributions to a 529 plan are tax-deferred, and residents who live in states with a state income tax realize more benefits than those who don’t pay state taxes. Individual states sponsor different 529 plans, so shop around for the best fit for your needs, even outside of the state you live in. 529 plans are also extremely versatile; they can be used for college costs (as long as the user enrolls in 12 credits or more) and can increasingly be used for K-12 qualified expenses.

Prioritize Your HSA

If you have a high deductible health plan (HDHP), then you have access to an HSA. You can invest pre-tax dollars into this account and make tax-free withdrawals for qualified health care-related purchases. There are a lot of different benefits to maxing out your HSA (to the tune of $3,650 for individual accounts and $7,300 for family accounts in 2022):

  • First, those contributions aren’t taxed.
  • Second, the interest you gain from the investment is tax-free.
  • Third, when you withdraw funds for qualified purchases, that money isn’t taxed either (whether you’re drawing from the principal or the interest). 

If you don’t have qualifying medical expenses, that’s OK — once you reach the distribution age of 65, you can withdraw the funds you contributed for any type of expenses tax-free (you’d have to pay taxes on any investment gains you spend on non-medical expenses, though). That can make an HSA more powerful than both a traditional IRA (the pre-tax account) and a Roth IRA (the post-tax account). Maxing out your HSA should definitely be on your tax planning to-do list.

Start Planning Your Tax Strategies Well Before Tax Season

The best tax strategies are long-term savings plans that let you minimize this year’s taxable income and help you create robust investments for future use. 

In fact, the personal finance community has reached a general consensus on how to prioritize your investments for minimum taxes and maximum retirement benefits. Follow these steps:

  1. Invest in your 401(k) to max out employer contributions.
  2. Max out your HSA.
  3. Max out your IRA.
  4. Fill up the rest of your 401(k) with whatever’s left.

Depending on the benefits available to you, you can also modify your “order of operations” to include Employee Stock Purchase Plans, starting a second source of income to invest in an SEP IRA, or other options.

Allocating your money to tax-advantaged accounts isn’t a last-minute tactic. Talk to your payroll department — and your financial adviser or accountant — before the end of the current tax year so you can maximize your financial potential.

Securities and investment advisory services offered through Royal Alliance Associates, Inc. (RAA) member FINRA/SIPC. RAA is separately owned and other entities and/or marketing names, products or services referenced here are independent of RAA.

CEO and Co-Founder, Mint Wealth Management

For more than 18 years, Adam Lampe has helped high net-worth-individuals, affluent families, foundations and institutions work toward their financial goals through holistic financial planning. As the CEO & Co-Founder of Mint Wealth Management, he leads all development efforts within the firm. Alongside his extensive work serving clients, Adam also teaches retirement planning courses through Lone Star College and Prairie View A&M University satellite campuses around Houston.


Should I Invest if I Still Have Debt?

As you start to establish yourself financially, you may come to a crossroads: should you pay off debt or invest in your future? It can be confusing to know what to do in this situation, especially if you have multiple financial goals you’re saving toward.

The first step is to look at the numbers, then to consider your preferences. There is no one “right” answer to this question. Let’s start by taking a look at the numbers around major financial milestones like your student loan, buying a home, and saving for retirement.

Let’s say your student loan is $75,000. Buying a new home might cost $350,000, and you might plan to need $2,000,000 for a comfortable retirement. Everyone’s numbers will look a bit different, so feel free to take some time to calculate yours.

Once you’ve put your estimated numbers on a page, what jumps out at you? It’s hard not to notice that retirement is quite a bit more expensive than the others. This isn’t too much of a surprise if you consider what retirement is: living for decades with no salary.

While you might be tempted to put all your extra income immediately into your retirement fund, it’s not necessarily the winning decision when it comes to whether to pay off loans or invest. Let’s look deeper.

How Important is Paying Off Your Student Loans?

If you’re like the average student, you’ve borrowed $30,000 or more to pursue a bachelor’s degree . If you went on to graduate school, your student loan debt may be even higher.

Most federal student loans have a repayment period of 10 to 30 years. You may opt to make the minimum payment each month for the duration of your loan repayment plan, or you might decide to pay yours off early.

One benefit to paying off a student loan early is that you reduce your debt to income ratio (that’s how much debt you have compared to how much income you have). This might raise your credit score and help you qualify for other financial solutions.

Or, you might decide to continue paying your student loan while investing in other areas of your life, like retirement or buying a home.

Know Your Student Loan Interest Rates

Before you can decide whether to pay off student loans or save for other things, look at what you’re paying in interest for your student loans. If the rate you locked in when you took out your loan is higher than current rates, you might consider refinancing. If you have multiple student loans, you could potentially consolidate and refinance them for a lower interest rate.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that refinancing federal student loans means you’re no longer eligible for federal benefits and protections, like income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness programs, so it makes sense to weigh the potential benefits and risks of refinancing before taking the plunge.

Comparing interest rates is an exercise in opportunity cost. Any decision to pursue one goal means you’re missing out on something else, but ideally, we look to minimize opportunity costs when assessing financial trade-offs. In this instance, the opportunity cost is leaving potential investment earnings on the table.

Let’s say you recently refinanced your student loan from 5% to 3.5%. Given the competitive rate on your newly refinanced student loan, you could consider continuing to make the monthly payment on your loan and allocating the extra cash flow elsewhere — like investing for retirement or buying a home.

Remember, we want to think about interest rates in terms of opportunity cost. What would it look like if you paid off your loan early? Your student loan costs you 3.5% annually, and that’s what you’ll “save” if you accelerate your payoff by $500 per month.

Once you paid off the loan early, you could invest your money in an asset class — such as the stock market — with the potential to earn a rate of return that’s higher than 3.5%. Historically, the stock market has returned an average of 10%. This investing can be done within a retirement account, whether a 401(k) or an IRA.

That said, stock market returns are erratic, and the annualized return figures you often hear quoted are just that — an average. Investing is risky, and there is always a chance that returns over the next five, 10, or 20 years will not outpace the interest that you are currently making on your student loan payment.

No one, not even a financial planner, has a crystal ball and can see into the future. This is why we also need to take into account your personal preferences.

If you feel like you are truly missing out on investing in an IRA or saving for a home, then investing in those things might be the right path for you. If your student debt makes you feel burdened and miserable, you could focus on that instead.

Paying Off Student Loans vs. Investing

“So, should I pay off student loans or invest,” you ask.

The answer is…it’s complicated.

Student loans often come with low interest rates, which means you’re not paying a huge amount of extra money over the years (like you would with a credit card, for example). So it’s low-cost debt. That means that if you want to invest in other areas of your life, such as saving for retirement or to buy a house, you may be able to do both.

Contributing to a Retirement Account

Many Americans are vastly under-saving for retirement, and with so many employers offering a 401(k) matching program, not contributing is like throwing money down the drain.

There is no standard for match programs — they can range from meager to generous. Between your contributions and your employer’s, it is often recommended that you save between 15% and 20% of your salary for retirement. You can do this by contributing the full allowable amount to your 401(k), which is $19,500 in 2021.

If you don’t have access to a 401(k) — perhaps you’re self-employed — you can save for retirement with other investment accounts like an online IRA or a brokerage account. No matter which account you use, you might want to consider putting that money to work with a long-term investment strategy. For example, you might choose to deploy a strategy of low-cost mutual funds that invests in stocks and bonds.

Buying a Home

Financial planners don’t all agree on whether a home is a good investment. That is not to say that a home is not a good financial goal; if it’s a priority to you, then it’s great. This is simply a commentary on whether a home produces a good return on investment.

Although a house may not have as high an investment return as other asset classes, such as the stock market, a house provides something that a stock or bond cannot — immediate utility. You cannot sleep and eat inside a stock or a bond.

While home values do typically grow over time, you must also take into consideration the costs of buying and owning a home, such as the interest paid on the mortgage, property taxes, and repairs and maintenance. That said, homeownership can be rewarding, and can pay major dividends down the line. One big benefit is having no monthly housing expenses (like rent or a mortgage) in retirement.

The Takeaway

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to investing while juggling debt. Undoubtedly, the biggest ticket item you’ll need to invest for is retirement — but whether you invest in retirement before or after paying down debt depends on your personal preferences and situation.

One thing to remember: Financial tradeoff decisions don’t always have to be all-or-nothing. You might choose to split the difference by putting a little here and a little there. For example, you might contribute $300 per month to your 401(k) and $200 to a high-yield savings account for your down payment for a house, all while paying off student loans.

With SoFi Invest®, you can invest in traditional and Roth IRAs, crypto, or ETFs, with hands-on active investing or automated investing. The choice is yours — based on your personal situation, goals, and preferences.

Find out how to invest for your future with SoFi Invest.

SoFi Invest®
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Cringe-worthy mistake: I missed out on $2,400 in travel because I forgot one simple rule – The Points Guy

I missed out on the Chase Sapphire Preferred 100,000-point offer because I forgot one simple rule – The Points Guy

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This Is the Best Age to Buy Long-Term Care Insurance

Man in a nursing home /

Long-term care is jaw-droppingly expensive. The national median cost for staying in a private room at a nursing home is $105,852 per year, according to Genworth Financial.

Receiving care in your home is cheaper, but even a home health aide will set you back almost $55,000 a year, assuming they provide care for 6.5 hours a day.

Don’t assume Medicare will pick up the tab, either. It doesn’t provide coverage for ongoing custodial care such as that typically provided by assisted living and nursing home facilities.

State Medicaid programs will pay for nursing home care but only after you’ve depleted almost all your assets first.

Buying long-term care insurance is one way to cover the cost of care, but policies can come with their own hefty price tag.

Premiums will be lower if you buy coverage when you’re younger, but you may end up paying for years on a policy before you need it. Wait too long, and you could be denied coverage.

So what’s the sweet spot for purchasing long-term care insurance? It seems to be in your 50s.

Consider long-term care insurance before age 60

Premiums for long-term care insurance climb as you age, but that’s not the main reason you want to buy early. Instead, you want to have some coverage in place in your 50s before any health issues could waylay your application.

“Something as simple as going to physical therapy could cause a denial,” says Erin Ardleigh, founder and president of Dynama Insurance, which is based in New York City but helps clients nationwide. “Waiting until 60 (to buy insurance) can be risky.”

At age 65, more than one-third of long-term care insurance applicants are denied, according to 2020 data from the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

More than half of applications for those age 75 and older are denied.

Long-term care insurance costs by age

Once you hit your 60s, insurance prices start to go up significantly as well.

The following is an example of how monthly premiums increase based on an applicant’s age.

These estimates, provided by a Mutual of Omaha calculator, assume a single female in Manhattan is applying for coverage of $5,000 a month for 36 months.

  • Age 45: $234 per month
  • Age 55: $293 per month
  • Age 65: $422 per month
  • Age 75: $820 per month

While most policies are designed to have level premiums, there is no guarantee they won’t go up, Ardleigh says. Premiums may also depend upon whether someone is buying insurance as part of a couple and what elimination period is included in the policy. The elimination period is the amount of time that must pass after you begin needing care before benefits are paid.

Buying some coverage is better than none

Ardleigh recommends her clients buy policies that have, at a minimum, a $5,000 a month benefit for 24 months. A higher monthly benefit means the opportunity to stay in a nicer facility should you need care. However, purchasing more than three years of coverage may be unnecessary for many people, since the average nursing home stay lasts just two to three years.

If a policy with those minimums is too expensive, any coverage will be better than no coverage.

“Imagine it’s snowing,” Ardleigh suggests as an analogy. “Anything you put on is going to help when you go outside.”

While a light jacket isn’t as good as a heavy winter coat, it’s better than walking outdoors without any outerwear.

If you can’t afford a traditional long-term care policy or aren’t sure if you’ll need long-term care, a hybrid life insurance policy is another option. These policies provide coverage for long-term care, and any benefits not used during the policyholder’s lifetime are passed on to heirs as a death benefit.

“We’re definitely seeing people who are younger buying long-term care insurance through hybrid policies,” Ardleigh says.

While not everyone will have the same long-term care insurance needs, everyone needs to have a long-term care plan. Talk to a trusted insurance broker and get quotes from several companies and product lines to help you decide what is the best way to prepare for covering the costs associated with home health, assisted living and nursing home care.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.


10 Great Sites to Buy Cheap Eyeglasses Online

In addition to accepting most major insurance plans, the company offers a hybrid shopping experience that allows you to order your lenses online, then get them fitted and adjusted at one of their 1,000+ locations.
Roka accepts most major insurance plans including Aetna, BCBS, Humana, and United Healthcare, among others.
Glasses USA is another online eyewear retailer offering a huge selection (as in over 7,000 frames) of cheap glasses. Unlike some of the competition, Glasses USA also offers free shipping and returns, as well as a 365-day warranty.
Prices start at and purchases are backed by a one-year warranty. There are hundreds of styles for you (or your kiddos) to choose from.

Buying Cheap Eyeglasses Online

Basic Warby lenses include a scratch-resistant treatment, a moisture-repelling coating, and UV protection. Progressive lenses (those that function as both reading and distance glasses) start at 5, while tinted prescription lenses cost an additional 0 from the base model.
In addition to the sheer convenience of being able to try frames on at home, there’s also the fact that shopping online for prescription glasses usually means more choice — and a lot more savings.
But whether you like pinching tiny plastic orbs into your eyes or not— chances are you’ll still want an attractive pair of frames that you actually enjoy wearing. The idea of discount glasses might imply that you’ll be wearing tacky, cheap frames. Not so, and the beauty of affordable glasses is that you can buy multiple pairs when you shop online.
By combining the best of both in-person and online shopping experiences, Lenscrafters is changing the way people shop for eyewear. This even if they don’t have the corner on cheap prescription eyeglasses on the market.
This certainly makes shopping for online glasses worth it.

1. Warby Parker

Since you can expect to replace your eyeglasses every one to three years, it’s worthwhile to find affordable glasses by buying online, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to switch up your style every few years.
Contributor Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.  
This online vendor offers a little bit of everything when you’re ready to buy glasses online, including its own ultra-affordable, in-house-designed prescription lenses and some of your favorite brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley.

2. Zenni Optical

The company is considered an “out-of-network” provider by several major vision insurance plans, including Davis Vision, EyeMed, Spectra/United Healthcare, and VSP, meaning you can collect reimbursement for your frames if working with one of these insurance companies.
Once you decide to find that stylish set of frames, get ready for a lot of options as you shop online.
If you’re looking for a lot of choice (and the modern convenience of trying on eyeglass frames at home), you might just want to start your search at Warby Parker. With prescription eyeglasses starting at just , and a variety of insurance providers accepted (including Cigna, Aetna, and Anthem, among others), Warby makes it easy to find great frames at any budget. Plus, you might need a pair of prescription sunglasses for driving and reading at the beach.

They also have a huge inventory of clearance frames starting at just .95.

3. Glasses USA

The company also offers fast delivery (two-day delivery for ) and a one-year warranty, which will replace your lenses for free if they break. They also allow you to purchase any of their prescription glasses using an FSA or HSA account.
Don’t want to try on frames with their at-home program? Not to worry, as the company also has a virtual try-on program.
Many of their fashionable lenses start at just .94, and you can find frames for even less in the “Under ” category.

4. EyeBuyDirect

While many of the glasses here start at around (including progressive lenses), you can find clearance pairs for as low as .
Warby usually takes five to 10 business days to ship your order, with home try-ons arriving in about five days.
If you lead a super active lifestyle, you might be tempted to try Roka.
In a recent survey from Consumer Reports, people buying glasses online paid a median of , while those shopping in-store spent 4.

A woman laughs while wearing black framed eyeglasses.
Getty Images

5. Lenscrafters

This company is taking the at-home trial to the next level by encouraging would-be customers to pick four frames and actually wear them while exercising — before ordering their favorite pair.
The company offers a variety of popular brands including Ray-Ban, Versace, Michael Kors and Coach, among others. Because many of their glasses tend to be high-end brands, the prices are also higher — often running anywhere between 0 and 0 a pair.
Some highlights of Roka frames include a lightweight frame with no pressure points and a design that won’t fall off during all your favorite activities.
When you sign up with your email, you’ll automatically get 15% off. The company had a fall promo for 50% off your second pair of glasses.

6. Roka

Besides being crazy-affordable from the get-go, we spotted some amazing promo codes when we visited, such as a buy-one, get-one deal and a 50% off (plus free shipping) code for first-time customers.
With virtual try-ons, a huge selection, and frames starting at , EyeBuyDirect makes it easy to find stylish and affordable lenses.
Probably one of the cheapest online eyewear stores out there, Zenni sells single-prescription glasses starting at just .95.
Zenni also offers a virtual try-on tool to help you pick which frames best fit your face.
You can use your FSA or HSA card to purchase your next pair of glasses with Liingo, and if you like them — don’t forget to tell a friend. You’ll get off every successful referral and your friends will get off their first order of or more.
Looking for more options? They also sell affordable prescription sunglasses (starting at ), blue-light-blocking glasses (starting at ) and tinted glasses (starting at ).

7. Ambr

Another eyeglass company offering an at-home try-on program, Liingo Eyewear features stylish prescription and blue light glasses (and sunglasses), starting at just .
The good news is that buying online eyeglasses from Lenscrafters might just save you money on contacts if you catch one of their promotions, such as a recent promo for 40% off contact lenses with any frame order. Despite the crazy-low affordable prices, Zenni lenses are actually still good quality according to customer reviews, and all come with UV protection and an initial 30-day protection plan that replaces broken frames for free.
You can make purchases using an FSA or HSA account, and the company also partners directly with a number of popular vision insurance providers. The company was running some pretty sweet promos recently, including a 30% off student discount and a Amazon gift card when you refer a friend.

8. Discount Glasses

Ambr also has a small line of blue-light, non-prescription kids’ glasses starting at .
Like most things, buying prescription eyeglasses online has become the new norm.
These specialized frames start at a slightly higher price point (5 per pair), but with their comprehensive at-home trial, it’s also way more likely you walk away with something you really love.
You can even buy your frames using your HSA or FSA account.
Eyecare in general has become a lot more affordable in recent years. There’s even a website offering online eye exams that take 10 minutes or less and only cost .

9. Glasses Shop

Here are 10 affordable places to buy your next pair of cheap prescription glasses online.
If you’re new to online shopping for eyeglasses, keep in mind that most prices you’ll see are for both frames and lenses (assuming you have a relatively low prescription that doesn’t require thicker lenses). But you might be charged extra for special coatings, progressive lenses (those that function as both reading and distance glasses), or other add-ons for your lenses.
Coming in hot with gorgeous lenses handcrafted in Ireland, Ambr is a company focused on creating affordable prescription (and non-prescription) blue-light glasses. Meant to protect your eyes from extensive screen time, these frames start at for non-prescription lenses and 2 for prescriptions within the ​​+4.00/-4.00 range.
Discount Glasses is pretty much everything it sounds like — affordable eyewear.
If you’re looking for cheap lenses with a pop of color, you’re going to like the selection at Glasses Shop.

10. Liingo Eyewear

Glasses Shop accepts payment from HSA and FSA accounts.
This company offers prescription glasses and sunglasses as well as blue light and progressive frames, with free shipping on orders over .
While the company doesn’t partner with any insurance providers directly, their lenses are accepted by most FSA and HSA accounts.
In addition to a great selection of affordable frames, the company also offers free shipping and returns and an extensive line of reading glasses and sunglasses.
Glasses from Ambr typically take three days to dispatch. The company offers free worldwide shipping and returns and 24/7 customer support.

Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 125,000 Points + Free Night Certificate (50k)

Update 9/23/21: Deal now live

The Offer

Direct link to offer

  • Chase is offering a bonus of 125,000 points + free night certificate (good on up to 50,000 points) after $5,000 in spend on the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card.

Card Details

  • Annual fee of $95, not waived first year
  • Eligibility for this product: The product is not available to either:
    • current cardmembers of the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier credit card (also known as Marriott Rewards® Premier) or Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ credit card (also known as Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus), or
    • previous cardmembers of the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier credit card (also known as Marriott Rewards® Premier) or Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ credit card (also known as Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus), who received a new cardmember bonus within the last 24 months.
  • Eligibility for the new cardmember bonus: The bonus is not available to you if you:
    • are a current cardmember, or were a previous cardmember within the last 30 days, of Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express);
    • are a current or previous cardmember of either Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card), and received a new cardmember bonus or upgrade bonus in the last 24 months; or
    • applied and were approved for Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card) within the last 90 days.
  • Chase 5/24 rule applies to this card
  • Free award night every anniversary valid at a property costing up to 35,000 points
  • Card earns at the following rates:
    • 6x points per $1 spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels
    • 2x points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Elite status:
    • Automatic silver elite status
    • Gold status if you spend $35,000 or more within a card member year
    • 15 elite night credits towards status each year

Our Verdict

Better than the previous deal of 100,000 points. We will obviously repost this bonus when it goes live, mostly posting now because apparently Chase won’t match this offer. This will go onto the best credit card bonus page.


Dear Penny: Can I Get My Dead Husband’s Benefits After Secret Divorce?

Dear Penny,

My ex-husband was killed in a car accident in November 2018. We were married legally for five years. We got divorced so our daughter could get SSI. She has cerebral palsy. 

When we divorced, we didn’t tell anyone except for Social Security. Not even his parents knew we were divorced. We were planning on getting married again at the justice of the peace after our daughter turned 18. Unfortunately, he was killed three months before her 18th birthday.

I took care of his funeral, and I am administrator of his estate. My daughter draws off of his benefits since she is disabled. I was told I don’t qualify. Is there some way around this? 

I barely worked in the 20 years we were together. I stayed home to take care of our daughter. She had endless doctor appointments, physical, occupational and speech therapy appointments, and several surgeries. Even now it is difficult for me to find a job around her schedule. 

-Surviving Spouse

Dear Surviving Spouse,

Unfortunately, the circumstances of your divorce don’t matter to Social Security. If you’re claiming retirement or survivor benefits based on an ex-spouse’s record, Social Security requires that the marriage last for at least 10 years.

But it sounds like you may qualify for something called Mother’s or Father’s Insurance benefits after your heartbreaking loss. The program is administered through Social Security. It’s available to surviving spouses and ex-spouses who are caring for the child of a deceased worker who was fully insured. (In Social Security parlance, “fully insured deceased worker” refers to someone who died with enough work credits to qualify for benefits, which typically means they worked full time for at least 10 years.) 

You can receive Mother’s or Father’s Insurance benefits if the child is younger than 16 or, as in your case, the child is an adult who has a disability that began before age 22. You don’t have to meet the 10-year marriage requirement, though you have to remain unmarried. The maximum benefit is 75% of your late husband’s primary insurance amount, which is the benefit he would have qualified for at full retirement age. 

You’ll only be eligible for this benefit if your daughter remains in your care. If you think your daughter may be able to live independently someday or that you may not be able to care for her at some point, that’s important to keep in mind, particularly if you don’t have enough work credits to qualify for Social Security benefits on your own.

Since being your daughter’s caregiver is clearly a full-time job, you also may be able to get paid as a caregiver. Many state Medicaid programs allow family members to earn money as caregivers, though the rules vary widely by state. If this is an option, you could earn Social Security credits of your own in addition to income.

Social Security’s benefit eligibility screening tool is a good resource for confirming that you qualify for Mother’s or Father’s Insurance, along with any other benefits. The rules for various Social Security benefits are incredibly complex, even for people who deal with issues like yours every day. It wouldn’t surprise me if Social Security simply gave you incorrect information when they told you that you didn’t qualify for benefits. 

I’m sorry that on top of the tragic loss you and your daughter have endured, you’re left to navigate these bureaucratic mazes. I hope these options will help to fill the financial void left behind.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Here’s how secured credit cards help build credit

Person checking credit card.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

A secured credit card is backed by a deposit, which enables lenders to provide secured credit cards to people with no credit history or bad credit. You can build your credit using a secured credit card by using your card regularly, paying off the full balance each month and keeping your credit utilization low.  

If you have no credit history or bad credit, it can be difficult to get a credit card or a loan. Without credit, however, you can’t start to build or improve your credit history. One way to build or improve your credit history is getting a secured credit card.

Unlike a traditional credit card, a secured credit card requires a cash deposit. As long as you pay off your balance, the deposit will be returned to you when you close the account. But if you don’t make payments on time, the deposit acts as collateral, and the lender will keep the deposit to pay what you owe. 

Read on to learn more about how secured credit cards work and how you can use one to build or improve your credit history. 

What is a secured credit card?

A secured credit card is similar to a traditional card in most respects, except that the card is backed by a cash deposit that lenders use as collateral. 

While lenders are typically hesitant to offer credit cards to people with no credit history or poor credit, a secured credit card is a low risk, since you are essentially borrowing money from your own cash deposit. If you don’t pay your bill, the lender can simply use your deposit to pay off the balance.

Key points about secured credit cards.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind with secured credit cards:

  • Credit limit: The credit limit for a secured credit card is usually equal to the amount of cash you are required to provide as a deposit. 
  • Annual percentage rate: The annual percentage rate (APR), or the interest that you’ll accrue by not paying your full balance each month, is typically higher on a secured credit card. 
  • Goods and services: Similar to a traditional credit card, a secured credit card can be used to pay for goods and services, including many bills. 

By using a secured credit card with good credit habits, you can build or improve your credit history to enable yourself to get a better credit card or a loan. 

How to use a secured credit card to build credit

Once you have a secured credit card, you can begin using it to build or improve your credit, which could ultimately lead to a better credit score and the opportunity to get a car loan or mortgage. Additionally, using a secured credit card responsibly may be a great path toward getting a regular credit card, which offers advantages like higher credit limits, rewards programs and better interest rates.

How to build credit with a secured credit card

Keep the following in mind while using a secured card to build your credit.

Make sure your card issuer reports to the credit bureaus

There are three major credit bureaus that keep track of your credit history, so you’ll want to be sure your credit card issuer is reporting your payments so you can build your credit. 

Check your credit card agreement or call the financial institution offering you a secured credit card to ensure they will report your credit history to the credit bureaus.  

Use your card regularly

Your card will only make an impact on your credit report if you use it, so you’ll want to make regular purchases with your secured credit card. However, it is important to use your card responsibly, so aim for manageable purchases like groceries or small bills. 

Keep your credit utilization low

One of the factors affecting your credit score is credit utilization, which is the ratio between the credit available to you and the credit you’re actually using. In general, it is beneficial to try to use 30 percent or less of the total credit at your disposal.

Keeping your credit card utilization low signals to future creditors that you are a lower risk because you aren’t relying too heavily on your credit cards. 

Pay off your full balance every month

An important part of managing a credit card is paying off the full balance every month, which helps you avoid paying any interest or falling behind on payments, which in turn can lead to a negative item on your credit report. 

Advantages and disadvantages of secured credit cards

Secured credit cards can be a good option, but it’s important to recognize that they have drawbacks as well. Consider the advantages and disadvantages when deciding whether to get a secured credit card.


  • Enables you to build or repair your credit if you have no credit or poor credit
  • Encourages responsible use of credit due to required cash deposit
  • Is typically accepted everywhere a regular credit card is also accepted.


  • May be impractical for long-term use due to lower credit limits
  • May have a higher interest rate, which can be problematic if you don’t pay the full balance each month
  • May charge administrative fees 

Overall, secured credit cards offer an excellent way to build credit, especially for those who have no credit history or poor credit. However, once you’re able to qualify for a regular credit card, it’s often beneficial to do so. Regular credit cards offer better interest rates and credit limits, and many also offer cash-back rewards. 

If you’re looking to get a secured credit card to fix your credit, make sure that you have taken a close look at your credit report for any inaccurate information that could be bringing down your score. 

If you need assistance formulating a solid credit repair strategy, consider consulting the professionals at Lexington Law Firm for help addressing and removing negative items from your credit report. 

Reviewed by Horacio Celaya, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Horacio Celaya was born in Tucson, Arizona but eventually moved with his family to Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Mr. Celaya went on to graduate with Honors from the Autonomous University of Baja California Law School. Mr. Celaya is a graduate of the University of Arizona where he graduated from James E. Rogers College of Law. During law school, Mr. Celaya received his certificate in International Trade Law, completing his thesis on United States foreign direct investment in Latin America. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Celaya has worked in an immigration firm where he helped foreign investors organize their assets in order to apply for investment-based visas. He also has extensive experience in debt settlement negotiations on behalf of clients looking to achieve debt relief. Mr. Celaya is licensed to practice law in New Mexico. He is located in the Phoenix office. 

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.


The Forces Shaping Retirement in the 2020s

This is the decade when retirement gets redefined. The era of trading a long career for a pension, a gold watch and afternoons on the golf course ended long ago. In its place, today’s retirees face growing financial pressure from multiple directions, including the looming fiscal crises for Social Security and Medicare.

The remedies for these financial pressures can sometimes exacerbate economic divisions. Retirement for the middle or working class is changing more than retirement for the wealthy. “There are already different levels of retirement,” says Jason Schenker, an economist and chairman of The Futurist Institute.

That imbalance starts with retirement savings. Although a robust stock market helped turn a record 334,000 people into 401(k) millionaires by the end of 2020, one in three Americans also report that the pandemic set their savings back a few years, according to a Fidelity Investments survey. Americans in their 50s had, on average, $203,600 stashed away in their 401(k)s as of the fourth quarter last year, with people in their 60s reporting savings of only $25,500 more, Fidelity says. That’s not chump change, but it’s hardly enough to retire on.

Although most Americans will need to work longer, older employees have a shot at striking a better work-life balance, allowing them more time for other pursuits. That’s good because the one thing the four following forces shaping retirement in the 2020s have in common is the need for a bigger nest egg.

Finding Flexible Work in Retirement

You can’t be a little pregnant, but in the 2020s, you might be a little retired. “Retirement will be less of a binary state. People will find small ways to work and phase out of the labor force,” says Allison Schrager, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The pandemic set up less traditional work and more remote work, maybe even contract work, and that’s good for seniors.” Many may prefer to work part-time or switch to a less stressful full-time job. Gen X, which turns 60 in 2025 and is known for being entrepreneurial, may be especially well positioned to work as consultants and set their own hours.

Schrager envisions seniors like her mother, a therapist, mixing work and play more easily. She could spend a month traveling in France and do teletherapy from there, Schrager says. The Urban Institute’s director of retirement policy Richard W. Johnson adds: “Older workers value flexibility. They don’t want a traditional 9-to-5 job or deal with the hassle of commuting, and they are willing to give up some salary to achieve that.”

They may have to. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found compensation on RetirementJobs. com listings averaged $43,800 for full-time work in late November 2019. That was better than the openings aimed at workers of all ages on general jobs boards, where pay for full-time positions averaged $37,900, but worse than the average pay of $50,000 for Americans overall. The study also found that only 34% of listings on mentioned benefits, like 401(k)s and health plans, compared with 47% of listings on general jobs boards.

Although age discrimination still exists, older managers are typically more willing to hire older workers, says Alicia Munnell, the center’s director. But “this also highlights the inequality for people who can’t work longer because of health problems” or the type of jobs they’re in, Johnson says. “They will have much lower retirement income than healthier people or those who can work longer in sedentary jobs.”

Looming Changes to Entitlement Programs

Americans are working longer in part because Social Security benefits are shrinking. Meanwhile, Medicare is becoming more privatized. Both programs face fiscal challenges. Social Security is expected to run short of money in 2034 and Medicare as early as 2026. To fix the shortfalls, Congress can raise revenue, cut benefits or both. Politicians, though, are unlikely to slash benefits. “Retirees are a strong political group, and to be fair, they have paid into these programs and planned around it,” Schrager says.

That doesn’t mean the fixes will be painless. In fact, younger generations of retirees are already getting less from Social Security because the age for claiming full retirement benefits has been rising steadily — from 65 for people born before 1943 to 67 for those born in 1960 or later. The latter will wait longer to claim full benefits and get less per month because of the way Social Security’s actuarial formula is calculated.

Raising payroll taxes 1.6% for employees and employers alike would fund Social Security for the next 75 years, according to the Center for Retirement Research. Most experts are less keen on some Democratic proposals that call for raising payroll taxes on higher earners without increasing the maximum monthly benefit, as that would sever the historic link between the two. “Social Security has flourished because it has almost universal support,” Johnson says. Everyone pays into it and gets proportional benefits. If it’s viewed more as a welfare program that helps lower income people, higher earners may not be as willing to support it, he says.

As for Medicare, the growing popularity of Advantage plans is turning the traditional government insurance program into the Obamacare exchanges, with millions of seniors choosing from private insurers each year based on where they live. The trend toward privatization, though, hasn’t been as good for beneficiaries or Medicare’s bottom line. Unlike traditional Medicare, which lets patients see any doctor they want, Advantage plans are managed care with restrictive provider networks and lower premiums. Several studies, however, have shown that sicker enrollees are far more likely to switch to traditional Medicare, raising questions about the quality of care from Advantage plans. Medicare Advantage also costs the government more, accounting for 46% of total federal Medicare spending in 2021 but only 42% of enrollees, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Any discussion about fixing Medicare must address those inefficiencies and care quality before expanding the program, says David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. (Some Democrats have called for lowering the age of eligibility to 60 from 65 and expanding coverage to include dental, vision and hearing.) “Otherwise, you will pass on the existing problems to a younger cohort, and the program will become more privatized without a real, honest public debate about whether that’s what we want.”

Technology Improving Care for Seniors

Adding to Medicare’s burden is the looming shortage of medical professionals. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 doctors in the U.S. by 2033. The health care industry hopes technology can help fill the void.

Voice-activated technology, for example, could improve physician efficiency. “When electronic medical records were introduced some years ago, it was not a happy transition,” because someone had to type those notes, says Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging and Health Technology Watch. With voice-enabled dictation, “doctors will be able to speak the notes either in the examination room or just outside. It couldn’t have come at a better time because we have a lot of burnedout doctors, and medical records were a factor.”

Artificial intelligence has even greater potential to streamline and improve health care. With AI’s data analysis, doctors and hospitals can detect and diagnose illnesses more accurately, customize treatments and track patient outcomes closely. “Hospitals are most likely to invest, with doctors’ practices next and home health aides a ways out,” though all are possible in the next decade, Orlov says.

Climate Change Could Disrupt Retirement Plans

The signs of climate change — wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and floods — are all around us, but many older Americans contemplating where to retire don’t take it into account. Financial adviser Tom Nowak of Quantum Financial Planning in Langley, Wash., thinks they should because many retiree locations in the South and West are in the crosshairs of global warming.

Nowak integrates climate risk with retirement planning by budgeting more for taxes, insurance, housing, electricity, water and food. “The pandemic has given us a good preview of how climate change will impact us,” he says. If grocery prices soared from disruptions to the food supply during the pandemic, just imagine what prices will be like when water emergencies are declared in the bread and fruit baskets of America, he says. California and seven prairie states face rising threats from drought.

Property insurance is already on financial adviser Buz Livingston’s radar screen for personal and professional reasons. He lives in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., where homeowners insurance is more expensive and harder to come by. Many of the larger carriers have left the state, and regulators have forbidden some smaller insurers from signing on new business because they can’t absorb the risk, he says. Meanwhile, deductibles and premiums continue to rise. “My homeowners insurance 20 years ago was less than $1,000 a year and now it’s $4,000,” he says. “We’ve never had any claims, but the premiums go up regardless because of claims in other parts of the state.” For his clients’ retirement plans, he recently began factoring in a higher annual inflation rate — starting at 5% — just for insurance.

The single biggest worry for retirees is the loss of home value, says David Stookey, author of Climate-Proof Your Personal Finances. That loss can come suddenly after a drought, flood or fire devastates a community. “There are plenty of towns whose beachfront homes make up 20% or 30% of the tax base,” he says. If those houses are destroyed or lose value, the tax base plummets. “When a devastated town has no fiscal savings and an eroding tax base, financially it’s headed to disaster,” Stookey says. Even a financially sound community is vulnerable because, he says, “the infrastructure challenges from climate change are going to be big.”