Dear Liz: I recently gave birth to a little boy. I am wondering about the best savings vehicle that would offer flexibility for when family gives him money. I don't want to tie it up in a 529 college savings plan in case he doesn't want to go to college or has other needs.
Answer: If you want your child to have a reasonable shot at a middle-class lifestyle in the future, some kind of post-secondary education will be necessary. It may not be a four-year degree; it could be a one- or two-year training program, and a 529 college savings plan can help pay for that. Money contributed to a 529 plan grows tax-deferred and can be used tax-free at nearly all colleges, universities and community colleges as well as many career and technical schools.
You will remain in control of the account and can withdraw money for other purposes if necessary, although you would owe income taxes and a 10% federal penalty on any gains.
If you really can't accept any limitations on how the money is used, then you can open a brokerage account in your own name and invest the money there. Putting the money in his name could hurt his chances for financial aid if he does decide to go to college.
Credit card authorized users
Dear Liz: I have read that only the primary cardholder is responsible for the balance on a credit card, not the authorized user (such as a spouse). When that primary cardholder dies, there is no obligation for an authorized user to pay off the balance. Is this accurate? What would prevent someone whose primary cardholder is near death from racking up purchases and then, after the primary cardholder dies, refusing to pay it?
Answer: In a community property state such as California, spouses typically are both responsible for debts incurred during the marriage. In all states, the deceased spouse's estate would have to pay all creditors before any leftover money was doled out to survivors. So a spouse who went on such a spending binge wouldn't come out ahead, unless the primary cardholder was broke and left no estate.
Other authorized users might have no such restraints, however. Anyone who thinks an authorized user might pull such a stunt would be smart to take that person off the card before it becomes an issue.
Social Security spousal benefit
Dear Liz: I am 57 and my husband is 60. I will have a bigger Social Security benefit than he will. He plans to retire at 65 when he will take his own retirement benefit. I will file and suspend at my full retirement age (66 and 6 months), at which time he can file for spousal benefits. Then at 70, I can take my benefits. Is this correct? Or is the spousal benefit half of what I will get, which would be less than his reduced benefit anyway?
Answer: The spousal benefit is never more than half the primary earner's benefit. If that would be less than his own benefit, then it wouldn't make much sense for your husband to switch from his own check.
In any case, Congress is eliminating the option to file and suspend in order to trigger a spousal benefit. Since you must have reached your own full retirement age to file and suspend, and you won't have done so by the April 29 deadline, filing and suspending is off the table for you.
It still makes sense for you to delay starting Social Security as long as possible, because you're the higher earner. When one of you dies, the other will have to get by on a single check, so it makes sense to ensure that the survivor's benefit is as large as possible.
Questions may be sent to Liz Weston, 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the "Contact" form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.
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