May 06, 2018
Every week, Simply Money’s Nathan Bachrach, Ed Finke and Amy Wagner are answering your financial questions in The Cincinnati Enquirer. If you, a friend, or someone in your family has a money issue or problem, please feel free to send those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah in West Chester: My mom is 89 and recently widowed. I’m concerned that she’s going to become a target for scammers. How can I protect her?
Answer: You are correct to be concerned because your mom is a prime target for scammers. According to the government, the elderly lose as much as $3 billion a year to a variety of scams and financial abuse.
While you don’t want to make her fearful, the best way to truly help your mom avoid scammers is by educating her and working with her to be less vulnerable.
First, don’t just tell your mom to hang up on unwanted callers or trash a fishy-looking letter. Explain to her why some of these situations don’t make sense.
Let’s say your mom received a phone call from someone claiming to be the IRS and was requesting her personal information and an instant payment. Explain to her that the IRS seldom makes outbound phone calls. Most of their communications happen through the mail. The majority of the time, if they’re trying to reach you, they’ll send you several letters prior to calling on the phone. If your mother thinks she owe taxes, she should reach out to the IRS directly.
If you’ve heard a recent scam story, it may be helpful to share it with your mom as well. Awareness is key.
Some other helpful tips include having your mom check her credit report at annualcreditreport.com (look for anything suspicious that could indicate identity theft); putting her address on the opt-out list with the Direct Marketing Association; and registering on the National Do Not Call List.
Additionally, to help protect her specifically from financial fraud, be sure you always do research on a potential financial advisor. The easiest way to do this is by visiting BrokerCheck.org. This is a free resource that gives you the background and experience of an individual advisor or a firm and if they’re properly licensed to sell securities and give financial advice.
The Simply Money Point is that education – and constant communication with her – is key to helping your mom protect herself against fraud and scammers.
Randy in Newport: I have about $10,000 in credit card debt and about $45,000 in my 401(k). Should I use that 401(k) money to pay off the debt?
Answer: Taking a loan against your 401(k) has its pros and cons, so here are some points you need to consider.
First, you want to determine if there is any other option to help you repay your credit card debt. You may be able to transfer your card balance to a lower interest rate card, start a side gig to increase your income, or try selling something for extra cash.
What if you’ve exhausted all of those options? While there are some positive benefits associated with taking a 401(k) loan, such as paying interest to yourself and the fact your loan won’t be reported to credit bureaus, there are many risks as well.
One risk is that if you lose your job or voluntarily leave your job, the IRS will view your loan as a distribution, meaning it will be taxed as income. If you’re younger than 59 ½, you’ll also have to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
Additionally, if the money isn’t in your 401(k), then it’s missing out on potential market growth. The best chance of financial success is investing sensibly, consistently contributing, and allowing your money to grow – untouched – over a long period of time.
Plus, taking out a 401(k) loan may not fix the problem. If you’ve created a habit of spending and going into debt, taking out a loan will only be a band aid for a bigger issue. Change your spending habits before you start paying down the debt.
The Simply Money Point is that your 401(k) money should be earmarked for one thing: retirement. Taking a loan against it should be the absolute last resort. Partner with a trusted financial planner (we recommend a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ or Chartered Financial Consultant®) to help you select the best strategy for addressing your credit card debt.
Responses are for informational purposes only and individuals should consider whether any general recommendation in these responses are suitable for their particular circumstances based on investment objectives, financial situation and needs. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing, including a tax advisor and/or attorney. Nathan Bachrach and Ed Finke and their team offer financial planning services through Simply Money Advisors, a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Call (513) 469-7500 or email email@example.com.