Dear Liz: My husband and I have saved close to $2 million. He is 58, and I am 59. Our son is a hardworking, bright young man awaiting responses to medical school applications. My husband wants to loan him $200,000 to $500,000 to reduce his debt from interest on loans. I want to help too, but I think $200,000 should be the limit.
I want a legal contract to determine when it will be paid back, how much interest we will charge, and so on. My concern is that we are unsure how to set this up and I don’t want a nice gesture to end up causing problems with our son down the road. My husband is still working and has a nominal pension from military retirement.
Answer: The first rule of friends-and-family loans is to offer only what you can afford to lose. Even with all the proper documents, many loans turn into inadvertent gifts when the borrower can’t or won’t make the payments.
So your first stop should be a fee-only financial planner, who can review your entire financial situation, including your retirement plans, and let you know how much you can afford to lend your son.
The exact amount will depend on when your husband plans to stop working, how much you anticipate spending and how much you expect to receive from the pension and from Social Security, among other issues.
The planner also can tell you what interest rate you’ll need to charge to avoid having to file gift tax returns with the IRS.
Once you have that information, you and your husband can work together to determine the size of the loan and the interest rate. You can find promissory note templates online, or you can hire an attorney to draft the actual agreement.
Closing credit accounts
Dear Liz: I paid off and closed two large home equity lines of credit in April, but these HELOCs still appear on my credit report. The lender says they reported the transactions to the credit reporting agencies “immediately” and that the delay in having them removed is the credit bureaus’ fault. Are they right? What is required?
Answer: Closing a credit account won’t remove it from your credit reports. Furthermore, positive or neutral information can be reported indefinitely. The only time limit applies to negative information, which typically must be removed after 7 years.
If the lines of credit are showing as open accounts on your credit reports, then you certainly can file disputes with the credit bureaus and ask that the account status be updated. But since closing credit accounts usually can’t help your credit scores and may hurt them, you probably don’t need to be in a rush to make sure this information is reported accurately.
Confusion over spousal benefits
Dear Liz: I am currently receiving a spousal benefit from Social Security that’s equal to 50% of my husband’s benefit. My husband and I applied when we were 66 years old in 2015. I do not think my own benefit will be higher than the spousal benefit I am currently receiving when I turn 70 later this year.
But I was told by an agent over the phone that I am still required to file for my own benefit at age 70, and she set me up with a phone appointment. Is this true?
If I do apply and my benefit comes out less than the spousal benefit I have been receiving, will that amount be adjusted so that I can still receive the full 50% of my husband’s benefit? Or will I end up with a smaller amount just for applying?
I can’t see why I should “rock the boat” if I might get benefits taken away. I was just curious when I called in to see if they could figure it over the phone for me to see if I would benefit from the change, but instead I had to set up the appointment.
Answer: You won’t end up with a smaller amount. You’ll either continue with your current benefit or get an increase.
If you didn’t file a restricted application four years ago, then you’re already receiving your own benefit, plus an additional amount so that your checks equal 50% of your husband’s. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to do anything further and your benefits will continue as they are now.
But the phone rep’s insistence that you needed the appointment could mean that you filed what’s known as a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” That form allowed people born before Jan. 2, 1954, to receive only a spousal benefit while their own benefits continued to grow.
Retirement benefits can increase 8% each year they’re delayed after full retirement age (which for you was 66) and 70, when benefits max out. If your benefit has been growing and is now larger than your current benefit, you’ll get the increase, so it’s certainly worth checking.
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner®, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.